People For the American Way Encouraged by Obama Commitment to Apply Constitutional Principles to Partnerships with Faith-Based Groups

People For the American Way President Kathryn Kolbert made the following statement:

Senator Obama’s speech on government partnerships with faith-based and grassroots social service groups included a clear commitment to constitutional principles, something that has been sorely lacking during the Bush administration. Sen. Obama stated clearly that his administration would not allow federal funds to support discrimination in providing services – or in hiring. In so doing, the Obama campaign is embracing civil rights protections that the Bush administration actively tried to undermine.

What is less clear and potentially more problematic is the possibility that federal funds would be sent directly to houses of worship. That’s a bad idea. Helping community groups create nonprofits that can be held to legal and constitutional standards is a good idea. Both religiously affiliated and secular nonprofit organizations have worked in partnership with government agencies to meet human needs while respecting the Constitution. Direct government funding of houses of worship is neither necessary nor appropriate. It would create both a constitutional problem and logistical mess, pitting oversight and accountability for public funds against the autonomy of churches, synagogues, and mosques.

Bringing government and religion together, even for noble purposes, is a tricky business. It is possible for public officials to uphold the Constitution while engaging Americans motivated by their faith to do work that strengthens our communities. But great care, caution, and attention must be paid to the details, implementation, and oversight.

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