Posted by Scott Michaels
Proving he’s no amateur when it comes to tacking as far right or left as necessary to capture some vital constituency, President Barack Obama recently upheld a key Bush administration policy allowing groups receiving federal dollars to discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion.
During the campaign, Obama had assured audiences of his intent to keep the Bush White House focus on faith-based groups but with an end to the exception allowing those groups to decide who they might hire based on religious values or principles. Being an actual professor of constitutional law once, it seems Obama had correctly surmised that the idea of extending federal funds to a group which might use those same funds to ensure its continued activities would be all right in the main; but that using those funds also required the group to acknowledge the fact that public money can never be used to subsidize discrimination on the basis of religion, let alone several other proscriptions laid out within our chief governing document.
Not surprisingly, more than a few religious organizations applauded our president vigorously for the brave stance he took in continuing to uphold what seems to be a clear violation of legal principles going all the way back to the common law from which much of our Constitution was drawn, not to mention the writings of John Locke and Montesquieu, to name just a few. Ah, well…such is political expediency when you’ve got a shot at roping in a voting bloc as large as the religious folk in our country can be at times.
None of this should be taken to be an attack against the vast number of people in this country who adhere to the idea of a divine being. Far from it: The good works done by men and women of faith in this country is a testament to the legacy of tolerance and respect for one another the framers of our constitution fervently desired we show on a perpetual basis. For the most part - and with several very notable exceptions - we seem to have by and large made a good-faith (no pun intended) effort to do just that.
However, a President (and especially one as intelligent and thoughtful as Barack Obama) who says one thing on the campaign trail yet does another once safely bedded down in the White House only serves to diminish his office, not enhance it. And it was proven with depressing regularity over the last twenty or thirty years by a succession of Republican and Democratic presidents. This time, though, it seemed like it would finally be different. Like we’d finally come across a man who knew, to the core of his being and with a surety almost frightening in its purity of focus, that the law would tolerate no discrimination nor encourage it to be practiced, even when the religion itself may have correctly demanded it, so long as public money was involved.
The extension of the people’s wealth to groups (religious or otherwise) in our society stands in for the compact against bad behaviors our Constitution requires a people (both in the individual and the collective sense) to swear allegiance to, by the way. Mr. Obama so blithely disregarding this compact is something at once unsettling and deeply disappointing at the same time.