Obama Struggling With Issues of Church and State

September 18, 2009

In an article in Tuesday’s Washington Post, reporter Carrie Johnson writes of President Barack Obama’s dilemma regarding whether recipients of federal grants can reject candidates for a job based on an applicant’s religion. The article, entitled “Obama Cautious on Faith-Based Initiatives, notes that in a campaign speech in Zanesville, Ohio in 2008, he stated “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.”

Now, some civil liberties groups are urging the Obama administration to make good on that promise. Since in office, he has reinforced the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and has passed the question of whether religious organizations that receive government contracts can make hiring decisions based on the faith of the applicant to the Justice Department. Legal scholars say that there is much ambiguity due to conflicting precedents set by Congress. Obama did, however, issue an executive order in February of this year ensuring that “services paid for with federal government funds are provided in a manner consistent with fundamental constitutional commitments guaranteeing the equal protection of the laws and the free exercise of religion and prohibiting laws respecting an establishment of religion.”