Obama Speaks On Faith Based Programs, But AP Got It Wrong

There was a bit of a scare based upon an erroneous AP report today. In January I posted on Obama’s plan to continue faith-based programs but noted how he also respected separation of church and state. AP got the story wrong today in reporting that ” Reaching out to religious voters, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is announcing plans to expand President Bush’s program steering federal social service dollars to religious groups and — in a move sure to cause controversy — support their ability to hire and fire based on faith.” Subsequent report updated the wording to “some ability.”

Steve Benen reviewed Obama’s actual speech and found it to be different from the AP report:

“Now, make no mistake, as someone who used to teach constitutional law, I believe deeply in the separation of church and state, but I don’t believe this partnership will endanger that idea – so long as we follow a few basic principles. First, if you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them – or against the people you hire – on the basis of their religion. Second, federal dollars that go directly to churches, temples, and mosques can only be used on secular programs. And we’ll also ensure that taxpayer dollars only go to those programs that actually work.”

Steve writes that “By all appearances, Obama’s vision is consistent with what Bush’s plan would have been, if Bush cared about constitutional law, the interests of taxpayers, the rights of families in need, and the integrity of religious institutions.” He quotes further from Obama’s speech:

“You see, while these groups are often made up of folks who’ve come together around a common faith, they’re usually working to help people of all faiths or of no faith at all. And they’re particularly well-placed to offer help. As I’ve said many times, I believe that change comes not from the top-down, but from the bottom-up, and few are closer to the people than our churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques.

“That’s why Washington needs to draw on them. The fact is, the challenges we face today – from saving our planet to ending poverty – are simply too big for government to solve alone. We need all hands on deck.

“I’m not saying that faith-based groups are an alternative to government or secular nonprofits. And I’m not saying that they’re somehow better at lifting people up. What I’m saying is that we all have to work together – Christian and Jew, Hindu and Muslim; believer and non-believer alike – to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

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