Wednesday, December 26, 2007

What Will the Next President Do With the Faith-Based Initiative?

President Bush's Faith-Based and Community Initiative was designed to remove obstacles to the full participation of faith-based and community organizations in federally funded social service programs. Although Congress failed to enact much legislation implementing the initiative, the Bush Administration changed many of the rules and regulations governing the relationship between federal agencies and faith-based social service providers. For example, President Bush issued Executive Order 13279, which required federal agencies to respect the faith-based hiring practices of religious contractors.

The next president will be free to rescind or modify this EO 13279 and the other regulatory changes the current president made. I am aware of no good reason to think that any of the Republican candidates would un-do these positive developments. The real question is whether any of the Democratic candidates would do so. It appears that a majority of congressional Democrats oppose protecting the faith-based hiring practices of religious government contractors and grant recipients. Therefore, it is reasonable to speculate that most if not all of the Democratic presidential candidates hold the same view.

It is conceivable that the next president might add "sexual orientation" to the list of characteristics upon which federal contractors and grant recipients may not rely in choosing their personnel. It is conceivable that there will be no exemption for religious employers, many of whom consider extramarital sexual conduct in their employment decisions. Such a move would be an unwelcome development for theologically conservative social service providers seeking to participate in government-funded programs.