Faith-Based Initiatives: Bush v. Obama

President George W. Bush’s first executive order came in 2001, creating the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. The agency was designed to make it easier for religious organizations to receive grants to provide charitable services. At the time, liberals screeched over the office, claiming it would pay off political donors and let churches reign supreme, as The Wall Street Journal noted in 2009:

“The Village Voice fretted over Mr. Bush’s ‘plan to let churches run the government’s welfare system’ and his ‘march toward turning the U.S. into a religious state.’ Former Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal wrote an article on Salon.com about the faith-based efforts with the subtitle: ‘By pandering to Christian zealots, Bush has come close to establishing a national religious party.’”

Toward the end of his presidency, President Bush proposed $323 million in funding for the Office.  But after Bush left office, President Obama did nothing to eliminate this supposedly-dastardly office and its nine-figure expense. Instead, he opted for minor tweaks that didn’t change the overall mission at all and by 2010, the office’s budget had increased to $385 million.  Yet there was no outcry from liberals. In fact, they quieted on the matter completely.

Until now.

But not because they’ve suddenly realized the agency still exists and that they are opposed for principled reasons and not political ones, but because the agency isn’t helping them gain votes. An article from The Associated Press details their concern:

“‘I think there is a viable religious left who can be persuaded by a carefully articulated religious argument, but no one is making it,’ said Valerie Cooper, a religious studies professor at the University of Virginia and Obama supporter. ‘I’m concerned that the administration has not followed through on the promise of 2008.’

“Cooper recently attended a White House briefing for academics on the work of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. She and other religious scholars say they understand that pressing issues such as the economy had to be the priority. Still, they argued more could have been done to broaden the party’s tent.

“‘I get frustrated when I talk to evangelical friends or students and they ask, ‘How can you be a Christian and a Democrat?’ Cooper said.”

Those that opposed the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives under President Bush remain silent under President Obama. While the merits of the agency can be debated, the fact of the matter remains that those who once opposed it now either support it or are remaining silent. Why? The Wall Street Journal has one answer:

“Barry Lynn, head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, was a vocal critic of Mr. Bush’s faith-based office. Now, under Mr. Obama, he serves on the advisory council’s task force to improve the functioning of the office. Explaining his turnaround, he said he doesn’t view Mr. Obama’s office as partisan—the way Mr. Bush’s was. But acknowledging that there was no substantive difference between the offices yet, Mr. Lynn said: ‘We have a guarded optimism that when the advisory council, Justice and the White House act and get down to the nitty gritty, they will make this a constitutionally protected program. However, we have no proof of that and no guarantee.’”

Oh, I see! The difference is merely who holds the power over the growing line item in the federal budget.

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