April 8, 2009

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution establishes, among other key pillars, a separation between Church and State. This means that the U.S. government cannot endorse any single religion and must protect the practices of all religions, including the right not to practice at all. This is why it is disappointing that our 44th President, Barack Obama, the candidate of change, has not decided to dismantle the Office of Faith Based Initiatives. I understand that President Obama is a proud observer of the Christian faith. I also appreciate that he has compassion for all religions as well as non-believers, but how devout the President may be in his personal religious beliefs should be irrelevant when it comes to his public policies. It should have been barely relevant information when he was running for President and in a nation founded partially upon a separation of Church and State his personal views of faith should have even less relevance as he runs the country.

Yes, the Office of Faith Based Initiatives does allocate funding for the continuance and establishment of worthwhile programs. Establishing soup kitchens and homeless shelters are selfless acts of love and compassion for those less fortunate. But can those efforts be made without a belief in god? Are human beings capable of having compassion and respect for their less fortunate neighbors without a belief in a god or devotion to a book that instructs one to behave this way? The answer, of course, is yes. Acts of kindness for the sake of doing the right thing are possible without devotion to a god. Programs to support the less fortunate such as affordable health care clinics in impoverished areas of our country—urban and rural—and the establishment of enriching after-school programs for at risk youth, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters can be established and carried out without the advice and consent of those appointed to a Presidentially anointed faith-based office.

It is possible that religious organizations are intrinsically better organized to carry out some of these social support programs and I believe they provide great services and I encourage them to continue their programs but under the condition that they receive no funding from the taxpayer. A similar office can be established within a department such as the Department of Health and Human Services and individuals can be appointed to help allocate taxpayer funds to programs that are secular in ideology and provide similar acts of compassion and support for other human beings. The advantage here would be that the First Amendment would be observed and upheld.

I encourage President Obama to honor his campaign promises of change and continue to diverge from the policies of our last president. He can start by deciding to dismantle the Office of Faith Based Initiatives and leave programs founded in faith for the religious arena and instead reassign social support programs that are based in scientific reasoning and compassion for fellow human beings to the secular departments of the United States government.



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