Source: The Wall Street Journal
When President Barack Obama launches his version of the faith-based initiative Thursday, he will expand the mission to include abortion reduction and outreach to the Muslim world. He will also try to avoid the thorniest constitutional issues that beset the program for years under his predecessor.
Mr. Obama's approach to the federal faith office reflects his search for common ground on contentious social issues, and his willingness to dial back some of his campaign positions.
Mr. Obama's goal, much like President George W. Bush's, is to harness the power of churches and other religious groups to solve some of the nation's toughest social problems. But almost from the start, the Bush plan was ensnared by constitutional questions about the separation between church and state, most notably whether an organization that received tax dollars can make hiring decisions on the basis of religion.
As a candidate, Mr. Obama came down firmly against such hiring. But on Thursday, he will take a more nuanced position, saying that these issues should be decided on a case-by-case basis, said Joshua DuBois, the 26-year-old former campaign adviser who will be named to head the White House Office for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
"The president found one of the problems with the previous initiative was that tough questions were decided without appropriate consideration and data," Mr. DuBois said in an interview Wednesday. President Obama, he said, "doesn't have an interest in rushing questions that are so complex."
Instead, the president will sign an executive order making clear that the director of the new office should seek guidance from the Department of Justice on specific legal issues regarding "how to respect the Constitution" and nondiscrimination laws, Mr. DuBois said.
The same case-by-case approach will govern another tricky question: whether federal funds can pay for secular portions of programs that also include proselytization, he said.