Faith Biased?

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Obama gave a speech today outlining an expansion of government funding for “faith-based” charities, a move that some say “out-Bushes Bush” and seems to have caused some chin-stroking from lefty bloggers who worry about the separation of church and state and, you know, “out-Bushing Bush.”

In the speech, Obama criticized Bush for not following up on his own faith-based initiatives, saying, “Rather than promoting the cause of all faith-based organizations, former officials in the Office have described how it was used to promote partisan interests. As a result, the smaller congregations and community groups that were supposed to be empowered ended up getting short-changed.” His outreach will be different, natch. In part because it has a new name!

“I’ll establish a new Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The new name will reflect a new commitment. This Council will not just be another name on the White House organization chart – it will be a critical part of my administration.”

I’m not sure how out-Bush-y he is, though, beyond “we’ll spend more money on it.” The goals of the program itself are a lot like what Bush outlined at the time. As for keeping the plan constitutional, Obama offered these rules:

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.

The Bush plan also called for federal money to be used only in secular activities — but explicitly allowed so-called “religious hiring,” which, clearly, Obama wants to curtail. I’ll be curious to see how the actual faith-based charities react to this. Now, that money-only-going-to-programs-that-work idea, that’s a radical idea.