Obama appeases religious right

When candidate Barack Obama announced last summer during his campaign that he would expand President George W Bush’s so-called ‘faith-based initiatives’ program, this bad news was greeted with moans of distress from those who believe in the separation of church and state. Among them: the Rev Jesse Jackson, who was caught on videotape whispering into an open TV microphone that Obama’s proposal was so repugnant to him that he’d ‘cut his nuts off’ over it.

When Obama rolled out his re-baptized ‘Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships’ in February, he refused to repeal the Bush executive order permitting discrimination by religious groups receiving federal funds. It was a Scud aimed squarely at nonbelievers. Remember, Congress has yet to pass a law protecting the gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans communities against discrimination in employment. There is no constraint on church-sponsored programs from refusing employment to the sexually different.

Now Obama has named his advisory council for his god-bothering White House office. Predictably, it is overwhelmingly stacked with enemies of homosexuality and of abortion, reminding us that the women’s movement and the gay movement share a common enemy. Most of the council members are conservative evangelicals. Five are such religious extremists that they signed a letter asking Obama not to overturn a Bush administration policy that allows healthcare providers to deny services (like contraception and AIDS-fighting condoms) because of their personal beliefs.

Women’s groups submitted to the White House a list of prospective religious figures who, like the majority of Americans, favor a woman’s right to choose and are against employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. But Obama rejected that list, choosing instead a council with only two pro-choice religious representatives — the two Jewish members. By and large, Obama’s appointees are not people with proven records of providing services without blurring the church-state boundary. His appointments are political ones, designed to bolster his centrist image and appease conservatives.

Oh, there is one openly gay member. The compromisers and trimmers at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) inexplicably allowed their staffer in charge of religious outreach to serve as a queer fig leaf, helping Obama hide the domination of his advisory council by conservative anti-gay religious zealots. HRC thus helped further demolish the separation between church and state and gave its blessing to alliances with anti-gay bigots.

Only the simple-minded can possibly buy the argument that using taxpayers’ money to fund social service programs run by religious institutions is merely a way to help the needy and that it doesn’t subsidize religion-based intolerance and proselytizing.

Money is fungible, and relieving a church of part of the financial responsibility for its social service programs allows equivalent sums to be freed up for use in things like ‘reparative therapy’ for homosexuals who the god-botherers consider ‘sick’ and ‘sinful.’

Our founding fathers, who were profoundly mistrustful of any links between religion and government, must be turning over in their graves. Thomas Jefferson, author of our Declaration of Independence, declared, ‘History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.’ James Madison, who wrote our Constitution, maintained, ‘A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate liberty, does not need the clergy.’

Gays and lesbians should take to heart the dictum of the second president, John Adams: ‘This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it.’

Before turning to journalism, Doug Ireland successfully managed the Congressional election campaigns of progressive Democrats Bella Abzug and Allard Lowenstein.

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