OU Welcomes Sen. Obama’s Commitment to Faith Based Initiative, Still Expresses Some Concerns

Posted on July 1, 2008 In Press Releases



Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America – the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization representing nearly 1,000 congregations around the United States – welcomed the Sen. Barack Obama’s statements today announcing his intention to continue the partnership between the federal government and faith-based and community charities known currently as President Bush’s “Faith Based Initiative.” The UOJCA has been a leading proponent of such partnerships through legislation and policy for more than a decade.

In an address delivered today in Ohio, Sen. Obama stated his recognition that faith-based social welfare charities are “well placed to offer help” to those in need and that America’s challenges are “too big for government to solve alone.” Sen. Obama announced his intention to provide more funding for federal social welfare programs and plans to better train faith-based and neighborhood entities to apply for and receive federal grants. Sen. Obama laid out his guiding principles for the initiative, should he become President, which are that faith-based organizations:
> Cannot use federal funds for religious proselytizing or any sectarian activity;
> Cannot discriminate in who federally funded services are provided to;
> May not take religion into account in hiring staff, as otherwise protected by the Civil Rights Act, for positions paid with government funds;
> Must demonstrate their program’s effectiveness.

In reacting to Sen. Obama’s address, UOJCA public policy director Nathan J. Diament, issued the following statement:

The Orthodox Union welcomes Senator Obama’s recognition that America’s houses of worship and other faith-based organizations play an indispensable role in our society, including in our efforts to serve those in need. We applaud Sen. Obama’s intention to continue the “faith-based initiative,” maintain its White House and federal department offices, and fund federal social welfare program more substantially, and we agree with Sen. Obama that federal grantees must not use public funds for sectarian purposes nor may they discriminate among those who are in need and seek to be served.
The Orthodox Union is concerned, however, with Sen. Obama’s willingness to limit the rights of faith-based entities, codified in the Civil Rights Act and affirmed by a unanimous Supreme Court decision, to hire personnel who share the organization’s faith. A faith-based charity should not have to forsake its religious liberty or dilute its religious character to obtain a federal grant. Beyond the matter of principle, insisting that faith-based groups waive their legally protected rights may well undermine Sen. Obama’s stated goal of having “all hands on deck” as many faith-based groups, especially small ones, will opt out of government partnerships if this is the price of admission. ###