Sunday, April 25, 2010

When government abuses its partnerships with churches

The Weekly Standard has a new piece out, shocked! that the Obama White House is using the office of "faith-based initiatives" to mount a campaign against climate change. It quotes Jim Towey, a former director of the office, decrying the efforts.

The use of churches and congregations to advance the administration’s climate-change agenda, Towey says, “looks a lot like this is simply a political outreach initiative.” He adds: “The faith-based office was supposed to be a common-ground effort with Republicans and Democrats working to assist the poor—and that’s just long gone.”

Oh yes, it's awful to use a government-church partnership to advance a political agenda!

I'm not going to defend this. I'm just amused that Republicans, who were warned and criticized during the Bush Administration about the problems inherent in establishing church-state partnerships, are suddenly on the side of critics now that Democrats are in charge.

It's not as if politicization of the office of faith-based initiatives is new. Remember David Kuo, who served in the office when Bush launched it? He wrote a book about the experience:

Kuo alleges that then-White House political affairsdirector Ken Mehlman knowingly participated in a scheme to use the office, and taxpayer funds, to mount ostensibly “nonpartisan” events that were, in reality, designed with the intent of mobilizing religious voters in 20 targeted races.

Nineteen out of the 20 targeted races were won by Republicans, Kuo reports. The outreach was so extensive and so powerful in motivating not just conservative evangelicals, but also traditionally Democratic minorities, that Kuo attributes Bush’s 2004 Ohio victory “at least partially … to the conferences we had launched two years before.”

None of this, of course, is in the Weekly Standard story -- no hint that maybe the whole idea of a government office of "faith-based partnerships" is always problematic, prone to abuse by whoever holds the reins of power. Of course it is! But in the Standard's view, it's the Democrats who are really the bad guys. Of course.


Notorious Ph.D. said...
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Notorious Ph.D. said...

....maybe the whole idea of a government office of "faith-based partnerships" is always problematic, prone to abuse by whoever holds the reins of power.

But Joel, buying into that premise might require the U.S. government to resolve to make no law respecting an establishment of religion.

(And yes, I know that's not what "establishment" means in the original context. But I still think the framers would be horrified by the F-BI, and that they would have disagreed with religion being used to political ends as much as they would have disagreed with politics being used in the service of religion.)