Both Obama and McCain would expand Bush faith-based initiative

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life interviews two experts about how both McCain and Obama propose to expand the Bush administration’s faith-based initiative. John DiIulio Jr. addressed Obama’s plans; Stephen Goldsmith addressed McCain’s plans.


Sen. Obama wants to foster interfaith, ecumenical, religious-secular and public-private partnerships with faith-based and other nonprofit organizations that constitutionally, compassionately and cost-effectively supply social services to the needy and the neglected. He is dedicated to assisting sacred places that serve civic purposes, but he has a broader vision of religion and public life in 21st century America. It is a principled and pluralistic vision that extends to lending diverse religious leaders and faith communities a real ear in the White House.

That, I believe, is what Obama meant in July when he stated that the council would be a “moral center” of his administration, and not only regarding government support for faith-based and neighborhood partnerships that dispense social services. As we all know, when it comes to many different international and domestic issues, business, labor and other key sectors and interests have long had a voice in the Executive Office of the President or a place in one or more Cabinet departments and agencies.

Well, religious groups are the largest segment of the nation’s trillion-dollar tax-exempt sector, but how diverse religious leaders understand issues from international aid to immigration reform, from environmental protection to health care, does not register so routinely in the corridors of government. That’s unfortunate because, as many surveys tell us, diverse religious leaders and groups have ideas and experiences that make what they think about public issues at least as interesting, eclectic and potentially valuable to policy deliberations as what other sectors’ leaders and organizations have to contribute.


Much has been accomplished in recent years to fully engage faith-based and small community-based organizations (FBCOs) in the delivery of social services to benefit neighbors and communities across the country. Regulatory changes have reduced barriers and expanded the opportunity for government to partner with faith-based organizations. Eleven federal government agencies and the Corporation for National and Community Service created centers within their organizations designed to more fully engage FBCOs. A number of innovative programs are returning positive results. I would anticipate Sen. McCain building out such programs to continue with this momentum.

One example of this is the Mentoring Children of Prisoners program, which today has more than 100,000 children matched with a caring adult mentor. Sen. McCain will build upon the success of this mentoring project to tackle the high-school dropout rate and improve academic achievement. Graduation rates from urban public high schools are hovering at 50 percent, with devastating ramifications for those youths, their families and communities. Nearly half of all dropouts, and two-thirds of minority-student dropouts, are concentrated in 12 percent of America’s high schools, which are concentrated mostly in large cities. Recruiting and equipping volunteers and tutors to work with youths to improve educational achievement and high-school graduation rates will be a priority in a McCain administration. This effort may lead to a cross-sector collaboration that will provide incentives for youths completing high school, including education and training opportunities that lead to employment through vocational schools, community colleges or universities.

More on the candidates’ actions and words here.

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