July 5, 2008
Just Six Little Words
Obama's efforts to woo evangelical voters may not be as clear cut as they seem.
Sen. Barack Obama told reporters Saturday that he is optimistic about winning the evangelical vote in November.
"If we show up, if we let folks know that we're interested in them and we share a lot of common values, then we're not going to win 100 percent of the evangelical vote. We might not even win 50 percent of the evangelical vote. But we will at least take some of the sharp edges off this divide that's existed in our politics. And that hopefully will allow people to listen to each other, and that will help me govern over the long term."
Obama promised Saturday that he will make "faith-based" social service "a moral center of my administration," according to Jonathan Weisman of the Washington Post.
Earlier this week, Obama announced that he would increase funds for the office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Although reporters called it an effort to reach out to evangelicals, Peter Steinfels at The New York Times outlines how Obama's speech included six little words that sparked the dispute.
"First," Obama said, "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."
That little phrase between the dashes - "or against the people you hire" - ignited a political explosion, Seinfeld wrote.
There has been an ongoing debate over whether faith-based organizations can discriminate in hiring based on applicants' religious beliefs, a nonnegotiable for many evangelical social-service providers.
When asked whether he would keep the office open, Obama told Christianity Today in January that he wants to see how the moneys have been allocated.
"One of the things that I think churches have to be mindful of is that if the federal government starts paying the piper, then they get to call the tune," Obama told CT. "It can, over the long term, be an encroachment on religious freedom."
Sen. John McCain's spokesperson, Brett O'Donnell, told CT that the Arizona candidate wants faith-based groups to "have at least the same standing as they have now."