Details are emerging today about Sen. Barack Obama’s proposal for a new “Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.” While information is still being released, there are two immediate concerns with the proposal:

  • The announcement emphasizes government funding — not changing the character of government to allow more space for civil society solutions.
  • But even worse, Obama’s plan says that when a faith-based organization takes federal dollars, it would lose its ability to preserve its faith-based character through maintaining hiring standards consistent with its mission. It could be forced to hire an atheist. In other words, it would strike at the heart of the faith-based initiative.

Faith-based and community groups have tremendous potential to solve social problems because they are personal, flexible and local in their responses. By contrast, government programs are often large, one-size-fits-all and do not respond nearly as quickly.

The Bush administration has rightly highlighted the significance of such faith-based and community groups in addressing social needs and urged that government change in ways that will allow such approaches to flourish. One primary emphasis has been the need to preserve the religious integrity of groups that participate in government programs to tackle social problems — this is essential to their mission and effectiveness.

We should evaluate any policy efforts to maximize civil society and faith-based solutions by whether they move in the direction of reducing the size and scope of government and whether they help individuals escape dependence and achieve a life of independence.