In addition to the speech on which I posted, Obama has given two interviews on religion and politics in recent days. In addition to a kind of personal testimony about his life as a man of faith, there are some interesting comments about abortion and about the faith-based initiative.
Here’s Obama on abortion:
Ultimately, women are in the best position to make a decision at the end of the day about these issues. With significant constraints. For example, I think we can legitimately say — the state can legitimately say — that we are prohibiting late-term abortions as long as there’s an exception for the mother’s health. Those provisions that I voted against typically didn’t have those exceptions, which raises profound questions where you might have a mother at great risk. Those are issues that I don’t think the government can unilaterally make a decision about. I think they need to be made in consultation with doctors, they have to be prayed upon, or people have to be consulting their conscience on it. I think we have to keep that decision-making with the person themselves.
On the faith-based initiative, he says he’s solicitous of the freedom of the groups with which the government cooperates to deal with social problems (clearly one of the principal tasks Obama sees for the church, with or without government assistance). In one iterview he says this:
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. It can, over the long term, be an encroachment on religious freedom. So, I want to see how moneys have been allocated through that office before I make a firm commitment in terms of sustaining practices that may not have worked as well as they should have.
There’s always a danger in those situations that money is being allocating based on politics, as opposed to merit and substance. That doesn’t just compromise government. More importantly, it compromises potentially our religious institutions.
In the other, he distinguishes his position from Bush’s:
I am much more concerned with maintaining the line between church and state. And I believe that, for the most part, we can facilitate the excellent work that’s done by faith-based institutions when it comes to substance abuse treatment or prison ministries…. I think much of this work can be done in a way that doesn’t conflict with church and state. I think George Bush is less concerned about that.
My general criteria is that if a congregation or a church or synagogue or a mosque or a temple wants to provide social services and use government funds, then they should be able to structure it in a way that all people are able to access those services and that we’re not seeing government dollars used to proselytize.
That, by the way, is a view based not just on my concern about the state or the apparatus of the state being captured by a particular religious faith, but it’s also because I want the church protected from the state. And I don’t think that we promote the incredible richness of our religious life and our religious institutions when the government starts getting too deeply entangled in their business. That’s part of the reason why you don’t have as rich a set of religious institutions and faith life in Europe. Part of that has to do with the fact that, traditionally, it was an extension of the state. And so there is less experimentation, less vitality, less responsiveness to the yearnings of people. It became a rigid institution that no longer served people’s needs. Religious freedom in this country, I think, is precisely what makes religion so vital.
Someone should ask him if part of protecting religious freedom means permitting faith-based organizations to take mission (and hence religion) into account when hiring. Indeed, the most explicit consideration regarding religious freedom he offers is the freedom of clients from proselytization. To be sure, he says he doesn’t want fbo’s to be simply extensions of the state, but the only suggestion he makes in that regard is less entanglement. He apparently can’t imagine not attaching strings to money. So religious freedom would seem to require not taking government money. The Bush Administration’s thoughtfulness and creativity in this regard he dismisses as indifference to separation of church and state and/or political favoritism. This doesn’t give me much hope for anything from Obama other than the same old-same old.
I’m not surprised.