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The Columbus Dispatch - Obama Endorses Faith-Based Social Programs

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Location: Zanesville, OH

The Columbus Dispatch - Obama Endorses Faith-Based Social Programs

By Joe Hallett

Pitching for support from religious voters in a conservative region of Ohio, Democrat Barack Obama promised today to continue and expand faith-based social service programs if he is elected president.

After touring the Eastside Community Ministry, which provides food, clothing and emergency services to the needy, Obama outlined his plan to get more religious organizations involved in providing services to impoverished citizens.

In hard economic times and with federal resources stretched, Obama said Washington needs to draw on faith-based organizations to meet social needs.

"The fact is," he told reporters after touring the ministry, "the challenges we face today — from saving our planet to ending poverty — are simply too big for government to solve alone. We need all hands on deck.

"I'm not saying that faith-based groups are an alternative to government or secular nonprofits. And I'm not saying that they're somehow better at lifting people up. What I'm saying is that we all have to work together — Christian, Jew, Hindu and Muslim; believer and nonbeliever alike — to meet the challenges of the 21 s t century."

Obama wants to expand President Bush's program to steer federal social service money to religious groups, but he put stipulations on faith-based organizations that would receive money under his administration. Among them:

• They would not be allowed to use federal funds to proselytize or provide religious sectarian instruction.

• They could not discriminate against nonmembers of their church or religion, but must remain open to all and cannot practice religious discrimination against populations they serve.

• Religious organizations that receive federal dollars could not discriminate with respect to hiring for government-funded social service programs.

• Taxpayer dollars could only be used on secular programs and initiatives.

"I know there are some who bristle at the notion that faith has no place in the public square," Obama said. "But the fact is, leaders in both parties have recognized the value of a partnership between the White House and faith-based groups."

Obama said President Bush's Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives has never fulfilled its promise because support for the poor has been consistently underfunded and rather than promoting all faith-based organizations, "former officials in the office have described how it was used to promote partisan interests."

In a move bound to stir controversy from within his own party, Obama supported some ability to allow religious charities that receive federal funding to hire and fire based on faith. But such religious institutions only could hire and fire based on faith in the non-taxpayer funded programs and services they provide.

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