Senator Obama continues to hope he can exploit Evangelical distrust of Senator McCain by pandering to religious groups. His latest stunt is to promise an enhanced version of President Bush's initiative to aid faith-based charitable organizations. He's brought in some of Bush's old evangelical advisers, who had since grown disillusioned with Dubya, to lead the cheers for his own plan. Obama promises that no government money will go to groups that discriminate in hiring based on creed or attempt to proselytize in their charitable work. Bush himself made similar promises, but monitoring these groups is another story. Who, after receiving aid, is likely to run to the authorities and denounce an aid group for proselytizing? It would seem ungrateful, and in any event I suspect that Obama will be as indifferent in practice to any allegations of proselytizing as Bush has been. After all, if you feel that you can delegate the civic responsibility of mutual aid to groups whose charitable work is often an unmistakable expression of their religious creeds, how bothered will you really be if aid recipients hear a praise jesus or two.
If Obama were as serious as he claims about maintaining the separation of church and state, he would propose a system that encourages the formation of non-sectarian or ecumenical charitable organizations based on community affiliation rather than national churches. If these people want simply to do good works, they should be willing to combine their efforts with those of people with different creeds. If this is too much to ask any particular group, then they're probably not to be trusted with government funds.
I may be prejudiced on this point, but I don't like the idea of people being dependent on any sort of religious group for their survival. I don't like the impression that will form inevitably that it's God helping those poor people rather than the government that would actually be subsidizing the alleged omnipotent one. I'm reminded of James Clavell's Children's Story, the anti-communist fable that was starkly and unofficially dramatized in Ron Ormond's film If Footmen Tire You What Will Horsemen Do? The story is set in a classroom where the children are being indoctrinated against religion. The teacher asks the children to close their eyes and pray to God for candy, which predictably enough does not appear. Then the teacher asks the little dears to close their eyes and pray to "the Leader" (Fidel Castro[!] in the Ormond version). When their eyes open, there's candy on each desk, and "the Leader" is proven more powerful than God. Neither Clavell nor Ormond would have anticipated the way that "leaders" like Bush and Obama propose to split the difference. The Leader will in fact leave the candy on the desk, but when the kids open their eyes, he'll say it was actually God -- his personal friend.