Obama vows to expand faith-based initiatives

US Democrat Barack Obama took a leaf out of the Bush administration’s conservative Republican song book, saying he would expand federal payments to religious groups that are tackling America’s social problems.

US Democrat Barack Obama took a leaf out of the Bush administration’s conservative Republican song book, saying he would expand federal payments to religious groups that are tackling America’s social problems.

Republican John McCain, meanwhile, met with Colombia President Alvaro Uribe on the first stop of a three-day visit to Colombia and Mexico.

Mr McCain discussed improving Colombia’s record on human rights, but praised Mr Uribe’s efforts to stabilise the country and reduce the flow of drugs into the United States.

Mr Obama has taken a series of public positions in recent days near the American political centre, a common manoeuvre for presidential candidates of both parties after they lock up the nomination.

While both candidates understand the need to win over the critical block of independent and undecided voters, Mr Obama appears to be taking the larger gamble.

His promise in Zanesville, Ohio, to spend more federal money on so-called “faith-based” programmes could alienate some in his Democratic base who see the move as an abrogation of the country’s constitutional separation of church and state.

Mr Obama has also staked out other positions that may appeal to more conservative voters, recently criticising a Supreme Court decision that struck down a state death penalty law for child rapists and supporting the high court’s reversal of a gun law ban.

Taken as a whole, the positions suggest Mr Obama may see the possibility of picking up some conservative evangelical Christian voters.

“We know that faith and values can be a source of strength in our own lives,” Mr Obama said during a visit to the Eastside Community Ministry in Zanesville.

The ministry is an arm of Central Presbyterian Church that operates a food bank, provides clothes, has a youth ministry and offers other services to the poor in the central Ohio city.

“That’s what it’s been to me. And that’s what it is to so many Americans. But it can also be something more. It can be the foundation of a new project of American renewal. And that’s the kind of effort I intend to lead as President of the United States.”

Mr Obama said he would not withhold federal money from religious organisations that restrict hiring to members of that particular faith, so long as there was no such discrimination in employing workers specifically involved in programmes funded by Washington.

Reverend Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said Mr Obama’s plan would only expand programmes that he said undermined civil rights and civil liberties.

“I am disappointed that any presidential candidate would want to continue a failed policy of the Bush administration,” he said. “It ought to be shut down, not continued.”

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