Posted November 20, 2010 by The Underground Staff in Featured

Obama signs executive order for faith groups that receive funding

President Barack Obama signed recently an executive order that will introduce major changes regarding the terms of the partnership the government will have with religious-based organizations that receive federal funding.

Under former President George W. Bush, a faith-based initiative was introduced ten years before, so that churches can access federal funding to expand the work they do for poor local communities, ABC News reported.

Obama supports the initiative. However, critics questioned whether the initiative crossed the constitution. Obama signed the executive order to give the initiative a stronger constitutional and legal base, at the same time ensure against any inappropriate entanglements that may occur between the government and the church, ABC News said.

As of now, religious organizations that access federal funds cannot dispose the funds directly for religious activities. Also, their services must be equally provided to all people, regardless of religion, ABC News reported.

But the new executive order also says that if someone is not willing to receive help from a religious organization, alternative sources must be offered by the organization. Also, to further enhance transparency, government agencies must also list down online, the names of faith-based groups that receive federal funding, the Associated Press said.

According to the AP, the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State likes some of the changes but overall feels that the executive order has fallen short in many areas.

For example, AUSCS did not like the idea that churches that receive public funds are allowed to display their religious art, scriptures, icons and other symbols. They also complained that the issue of discrimination in hiring by faith-based charities receiving federal funds was not addressed, the AP reported.

Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of AUSCS said, “At a time when jobs are scarce, it is especially troubling that qualified applicants can be rejected from government-funded positions because they don’t go to the ‘right’ church,” according to the AP.

In response, the White House said that religious hiring is being handled by a separate process, and was never intended to be one of the issues that would be covered in the executive order, the AP said.

According to the AP, the intention was to simply strengthen and clarify the “legal footing of the government’s relationship with faith-based organizations,” and to stress the vital  function of these organizations in serving people and communities in need, according to Joshua DuBois, executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

The executive order also allows faith-based groups to keep religious terms in their names, according to the AP.

The advisory panel to the government cited the need to make it perfectly clear that in choosing which groups receive funding, there must be no political interference. or the appearance of such influence, the AP said.