Saturday, September 12, 2009

The march toward theocracy

In "Faith-Based Double Standards," Mollie Hemingway observes the curious disappearance of a once-intense concern about the entanglement of religion with the state:
In 2001, President Bush issued his first executive order as president. He created a program to encourage religious organizations to receive taxpayer funds to perform social services. The Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, as it was called, infuriated many. Civil libertarians said it violated the separation of church and state, liberals suggested that the office was paying off political supporters, and even Christian conservatives worried about the tentacles of government regulation.

The Village Voice fretted over Mr. Bush's "plan to let churches run the government's welfare system" and his "march toward turning the U.S. into a religious state." Former Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal wrote an article on about the faith-based efforts with the subtitle: "By pandering to Christian zealots, Bush has come close to establishing a national religious party."

Now that Mr. Bush is gone, however, no one seems particularly worried about the entanglement of the federal government with religious organizations. ....

This scant media attention is all the more incredible given that, as Americans United for Separation of Church and State has noted, Mr. Obama has left "the entire architecture of the Bush Faith-Based Initiative intact—every rule, every regulation, every executive order." More controversially, the office has become a major hub of political outreach. In frequent conference calls, the administration informs faith-based leaders of its policy initiatives, as when it recently asked rabbis around the country to give sermons on health-care reform during the coming high holiday season. ....

Barry Lynn, head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, was a vocal critic of Mr. Bush's faith-based office. Now, under Mr. Obama, he serves on the advisory council's task force to improve the functioning of the office. Explaining his turnaround, he said he doesn't view Mr. Obama's office as partisan—the way Mr. Bush's was. But acknowledging that there was no substantive difference between the offices yet, Mr. Lynn said: "We have a guarded optimism that when the advisory council, Justice and the White House act and get down to the nitty gritty, they will make this a constitutionally protected program. However, we have no proof of that and no guarantee."

Now that is the audacity of hope. [more]

At GetReligion, Hemingway includes an interesting insight into how this President operates:
Dan Gilgoff at U.S. News & World Report interviewed Frank Page, one of the members of Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships:
How involved is the White House in orchestrating the work of the council? Are you and other members free to convene conference calls to make progress in devising policy recommendations?

The White House directs all meetings and calls and brings in all the people who they want to talk to us. There has been little opportunity for self-direction. There was going to be a chairperson named for each of the council’s six task forces, but that has not occurred. That said, I do speak with the White House at least every other week.
Faith-Based Double Standards -, Shameless self-promotion: faith-based initiatives » GetReligion

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