Liberal Group Gives Obama's Faith-Based Initiative Thumbs Down

By Melanie Hunter-Omar | July 7, 2008 | 8:33 PM EDT

(1st Add: Includes comments from Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition.)

( - Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is courting evangelicals with his support for expansion of President Bush's "faith-based" programs, but not everyone is pleased. A liberal religious watchdog group called the move "disappointing."

The Illinois senator said Bush's program did not provide enough funding for social service programs for the poor. Speaking to reporters in Zanesville, Ohio, Obama said he wants faith-based social programs to be a "central" mission in his administration, because social issues like poverty are too big for the government to handle alone.

"We need an all-hands-on-deck approach," Obama said. His Council for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships would include a training program for community faith-based groups so they can to teach smaller groups how to apply for government programs.

Obama proposed a new summer learning program, which would benefit up to 1 million children, cost $500 million a year and be financed by cutting wasteful spending in federal procurement and management.

"I am disappointed," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "This initiative has been a failure on all counts, and it ought to be shut down, not expanded."

Obama said he believed "deeply in the separation of church and state," and he didn't think the faith-based and neighborhood partnership would "endanger that idea."

"It is imperative that public funds not pay for proselytizing or subsidize discrimination in hiring," said Lynn. "Obama has promised that he will not support publicly funded proselytism or discrimination in hiring, and that's an important commitment."

Meanwhile, a conservative group criticized Obama's support for faith-based programs as a contradiction to his stance on abortion.

"Sadly, Senator Obama does not have the moral authority to address these issues while supporting the tragic killing of innocent children and diminishing of women through abortion," Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, said in a statement.

"The question must be asked, how can one support faith and values while embracing policies that brutalize children and wound women? Senator Obama cannot talk with integrity about his faith and social justice anymore than a segregationist or racist can talk about their faith, justice or equality with integrity," Mahoney said.

"Throughout the Gospels, Christ taught us to stand for the most defenselessness, needy and broken in our society. Senator Obama betrays those sacred principles through his radical pro-abortion position," Mahoney concluded.

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