When is the pandering to religious groups going to end?
President Obama's newly revamped Office of Faith Based Initiatives is reigniting a contentious debate across the ideological spectrum over whether religious organizations that accept funds from the government should be allowed to discriminate when hiring.
On the campaign trail, President Obama's views on federal money and discrimination seemed clear.
In one corner is a string of religion-backed organizations that have accepted federal funds from the 8-year-old program to advance their secular charity work.
President Bush issued an executive order in 2002 that allowed these groups to continue their practice of discrimination with respect to hiring. Specifically, many of the organizations carry policies against hiring outside their religion or hiring homosexuals whose lifestyles conflict with church doctorines.
In the other corner are separation-of-church-and-state advocates and human-rights organizations that say the government must constitutionally compel these organizations to follow nondiscrimination laws if they accept federal funding. Anything less, they say, would at best be a violation of church-state separation and at worst an implicit endorsement of discrimination.
"[President Obama] is under heavy pressure from those who support faith-based hiring in these enterprises to not just eliminate it," said Ira C. Lupu, a professor at The George Washington University Law School. "Others say that hiring on the basis of religion is discriminatory and that the government should never subsidize that. As a political matter, there is a lot of pressure from both sides."
Obama himself waded into the debate during the presidential campaign, delivering a widely viewed speech in Zanesville, Ohio, during which he endorsed faith-based programs, but said the beneficiaries of such government aid should be forced to cease discriminatory practices.
"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," Obama said in the July 1 speech at the East Side Community Ministry.