Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Faith-Based and Community Initiatives

Presidential candidates Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama have both be recently supporting faith-based initiatives in a move to gain voters.

President Bush's White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (OFBCI), created in early 2001, worked to strengthen faith-based and community organizations and expand their capacity to provided social services to local individuals. Billions of dollars in grants are available to faith-based and community organizations, with the Bush administration explaining that it was leveling an unfair playing field, where effective organizations, regardless of their size, cultural affiliation, or type can now be awarded funds.

Many have traditionally argued that the OFBCI crosses the line of separation between church and state, thereby violating the constitution, and may be discriminatory in which organization it funds. In contrast, others explain that the safeguards in place to keep the funding directed only for secular activities and without discrimination are sufficient, and that the initiatives are necessary to increase the availability of social services at a community level. How these safeguards are monitored is also an important item of contention.

In any case, Senators Obama and McCain have been reaching out to evangelical voters, with Obama announcing support to expand Bush's faith-based programs, emphasizing that the work of these community organizations would not replace government or secular nonprofit work, but work with it, and abide by the safeguards in place to so as not to "endanger the separation of church and state," as Obama campaign spokesperson Bill Burton explained. The safeguards?
  1. Government funds may not be used to support inherently religious activities, including prayer, religious education, or proselytizing.
  2. Religious activities must be offered separately in time or location for services that receive federal assistance.
  3. Organizations may not discrimination based religion and must uphold Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibiting employment discrimination.
What does this mean for the Muslim community? Regardless of whether one agrees with the constitutionality of the OFBCI, the reaching out to faith-based and community organizations is significant. As Muslims have been struggling to be heard this season, these initiatives provide the opportunity for local organizations to get pro-actively involved in issues faced by those in the community. While it provides substantial monetary aid, the OFBCI also serves as a mode of mobilization for a faith community and provides them with stronger voice and influence in civic society. The "accomodationists" versus the "separationists" debate has had long-lasting battles, and it will be interesting to see how this continues to play out this election season.


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