It's only a week away from Thanksgiving; the trees have all turned from green to vibrant shades of reds, yellows and browns and a crisp chill in the air puts me on pins and needles as I wait for the season's first snow. As we reach mid November, the end of the calendar year always sneaks up on me -- Christmas is right around the corner and that means it'll be New Year's Eve before we know it.
This is the time of year that makes most Americans nostalgic. Most of us take the time to look back at the year that has passed and think about whether or not we've accomplished the goals we set for ourselves in January; do we still have time to succeed?
In January, Americans United set nine goals for the year of 2009. We focused on repairing the church-state wall that, as AU Legislative Affairs Director Aaron Schuham stated, "took a lot of hits during the Bush years." Two of the nine points focused on urging the current administration to keep the promises that Barack Obama made as a candidate in Zanesville, Ohio, regarding "faith-based" initiatives.
In July of 2008 while on the campaign trail, Obama pledged to revamp the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. He explicitly stated that his office would disallow taxpayer-funded evangelism and discriminatory hiring policies based on religion.
"If you get a federal grant, you can't use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can't discriminate against them -- or against the people you hire -- on the basis of their religion," Obama asserted. "Federal dollars that go directly to churches, temples and mosques can only be used on secular programs."
Has the administration succeeded in repairing the damage that the Bush administration did to the wall of separation by repairing the policies surrounding faith-based organizations? Not quite; at least not yet.
It seems that most factors surrounding faith-based initiatives have remained static in 2009. The Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press have unveiled a new survey that has found that "more than eight years after former President George W. Bush unveiled his faith-based initiative...the policy continues to draw broad public support."
The report continues to read: "But as was the case when Bush first announced the initiative, many Americans express concerns about blurring the lines between church and state."
The survey, conducted among over 4,000 adults, has found that while 69 percent of Americans favor allowing churches and other houses of worship to apply for government funding to provide social services, 69 percent of those surveyed reported the possibility that the government might get too involved in religious organizations as an important concern.
Approximately half (52 percent) of participants see government funding of faith-based organizations as an inherent interference with the separation between church and state and an overwhelming majority of Americans (74 percent) say religious organizations that receive government funds to provide services should not be able to hire only people who share their religious beliefs.
Since the majority of Americans view the wall of separation as a national priority and an even stronger majority understand the constitutional implications of funding evangelism or discriminatory hiring policies with public money, there is a clear message that the President ought receive as the holidays are approaching: we want to see the change you've promised.