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Obama Must Keep Promise to End Faith-Based Funding

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Media outlets reported today that President Barack Obama will name Joshua DuBois, a Pentecostal minister who did religious outreach during the campaign, to head a revamped White House office of “faith-based” initiatives.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, called on Obama to act quickly to overturn executive orders and other policies from the Bush administration that undercut civil rights and civil liberties.

“I urge President Obama and his staff to work expeditiously to fix several glaring problems with the ‘faith-based’ initiative,” Lynn said. “Time is of the essence. Every day the initiative operates under Bush-era rules is another day rights are violated and tax money is squandered.”

Lynn said the Obama administration should work to implement a series of recommendations the new president made in July. During a speech in Zanesville, Ohio, Obama vowed to end taxpayer-funded job bias in faith-based programs, forbid proselytizing in these programs and subject them to oversight to make sure they are effective.

Affirming his support for separation of church and state, Obama said his approach to faith-based funding would follow “a few basic principles.”

“First, if you get a federal grant,” Obama said, “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.”

AU’s Lynn said, “These reforms are vital if this program is to operate under the mandates of our Constitution. Bush-era executive orders gave religious groups a so-called ‘right’ to accept public funds and still discriminate on religious grounds when hiring staff.

“Americans should not be forced to subsidize publicly funded jobs that they can’t even apply for because they’re the ‘wrong’ religion. It’s fundamentally unfair and an offense to our shared values.”

Lynn added, “In addition, all forms of proselytism with public funds must end. In this time of economic uncertainty, more Americans than ever are in need. They should never be subjected to unwanted religious coercion as the price of receiving help from their government.”

Lynn continued, “In an ideal world, there would be no ‘faith-based’ office. But if we must have this office, certain steps must be taken to bring it into line with the commands of the Constitution.”

Concluded Lynn, “We look forward to working with President Obama and Joshua DuBois on this important issue.”

Since 2001, Americans United has spearheaded a coalition of religious and public policy groups that opposed hiring discrimination in the faith-based initiative. Prior to the inauguration, members of AU’s Legislative Affairs Department met with Obama staffers to discuss ways to fix the faith-based initiative.

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