This is depressing: Barack Obama promises to expand the Office of Faith-based Initiatives

(Note Addendum before commenting, please.)

Is there any candidate who still supports the separation of church and state anymore? Heck, even Barack Obama seems to be pandering to the religious base these days:

CHICAGO — Reaching out to evangelical 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 some ability to hire and fire based on faith.

Obama was unveiling his approach to getting religious charities more involved in government anti-poverty programs during a tour and remarks Tuesday in Zanesville, Ohio, at Eastside Community Ministry, which provides food, clothes, youth ministry and other services.

“The challenges we face today … are simply too big for government to solve alone,” Obama was to say, according to a prepared text of his remarks obtained by The Associated Press. “We need all hands on deck.”

Obama’s announcement is part of a series of events leading up to Friday’s Fourth of July holiday that are focused on American values.

Worse, not only does he plan on making this program the “moral center” of his administration and renaming it the Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, he’s even favoring giving funds to groups that fire and hire based on religion:

But Obama’s support for letting religious charities that receive federal funding consider religion in employment decisions could invite a storm of protest from those who view such faith requirements as discrimination.

Obama does not support requiring religious tests for recipients of aid nor using federal money to proselytize, according to a campaign fact sheet. He also only supports letting religious institutions hire and fire based on faith in the non-taxypayer funded portions of their activities, said a senior adviser to the campaign, who spoke on condition of anonymity to more freely describe the new policy.

That’s a distinction without a real difference. After all, any money that a faith-based group receives from the federal government is money that frees up other parts of its budget to do other things–such as proselytize. Moreover, giving public funding to groups that base hiring decisions on whether or not an applicant shares the faith of the organization gives the government imprimatur on the concept that it is acceptable to discriminate based on religion.

Can someone explain to me again how Obama is supposed to be such a great candidate? These days, he strikes me as almost trying to outdo McCain when it comes to pandering,. Given how corrupt the Office of Faith-based Initiatives is already, why on earth would anyone want to expand it? Never mind that there shouldn’t be a government office of faith-based anything in the first place.

ADDENDUM: It’s been pointed out that there is a correction in the article linked to above. (That correction was not there when I wrote this early this morning.) The correction reads thusly:

Note: The Associated Press initially reported Obama supports “their (faith-based organizations’) ability to hire and fire based on faith.” NBC reports the campaign says Obama’s plan would prevent organizations from discriminating based on faith. The Associated Press changed its wording to say, “some ability to hire and fire based on faith.” The campaign says this second version is still inaccurate.

Let’s assume that that’s true for the moment and the story included a dubious quote. Even if so, it only mildly changes my opinion. For one thing, it doesn’t change that there shouldn’t be an office of faith-based anything in the federal government. That’s not an appropriate function of the federal government. For another thing, it doesn’t change my opinion that expanding such an office is a continuation under a “kinder, gentler” guise of the assault on the separation of church and state begun under the Bush administration, no matter how “benign”-seeming the rhetoric. (The bit about the road to hell being paved with good intentions comes to mind.) Moreover, even with the restrictions in this position statement, it doesn’t change the fact that giving money to faith-based organizations to do one thing frees up money for them to use for other things–such as proselytizing.

If such a proposal came from the Bush Administration with similar wording, there’d be a hue and a cry about mixing government and religion. Oh, wait, it did. All these apologetics about Obama’s initiative from people who castigate Bush for mixing religion and politics strike me as nothing more than a naive faith that “our guy” will do better at the same thing. It would be one thing if either Bush’s original initiative or this one were nothing more than changing the rules to allow faith-based groups to compete with secular groups for federal grant money, but it’s more than that. It’s the placement of an office in the White House whose primary purpose is to coordinate money going through religious-based groups. When government meddles in religion, it corrupts both. I don’t see how this plan by Obama would be any different.