Reporters Fail to Assess Obama’s Faith-Based Initiative

During the first G.W. Bush term, I was never quite clear how the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (OFBCI) worked. The Office, according to staff, was designed to “end the discrimination that faith-based social services face when applying for federal grants.” Catholic Charities and the Jewish Federation already receive such grants and are bound by federal strings — no proselytization, no hiring discrimination. So what’s new? It is often said faith-based services are more effective than secular efforts. Would federal grants now go to sectarian efforts such as religious substance-abuse programs? If so, can pagans apply?

Congress, to my knowledge, never took up these contentious issues, leaving the Office to tinker at the edges and simply go around promoting White House Conferences (photo-ops) for certain recipients, i.e. urban Black churches. I’ll do some research on this and post if I can.

Let me shame the national media for their template coverage which fails to locate the lead — what if anything is different here? The typical coverage template includes:

  1. Lead with Obama’s Ohio announcement, including “non-discrimination” hiring practices
  2. Find a word of support from former OFBCI director Jon DiIlulio and a criticism from activist Barry Lynn
  3. Describe the impact on presidential politics, perhaps mentioning the evangelical vote

and sometimes:

4. Note that Obama is also proposing $500 million per year to provide summer learning for 1 million poor children to help close achievement gaps for students

Some blame should be given to Obama’s religious outreach director, age 25, who clearly didn’t have answers to the questions. He was in high school when Bush first proposed the Office. I’m lucky enough to have monitored these issues when it was called “charitable choice” back in the 104th session of Congress, 1996-98, and needed to explain the relevant issues to high school students, forcing me to gain a small measure of clarity and specificty.

Update: How about this lead — “Obama Secularizes, Expands, Faith-Based Efforts”

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