Obama to expand faith-based groups with eye on religious voters
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Tuesday promised to boost government backing of faith-based groups that are active in their local communities, expanding President George W Bush's initiatives in a bid to wrest some conservative religious voters from the Republican camp, the dpa reported.
Obama said non-profit faith-based and secular groups alike were needed to tackle poverty in the United States, though religious groups would have to abide by non-discrimination laws and other checks on their programmes if they received government funding."I know there are some who bristle at the notion that faith has a place in the public square," Obama said in a speech from Zanesville, Ohio.
"I believe deeply in the separation of church and state, but I don't believe this partnership will endanger that idea," he said.
Bush has been one of the most vocal presidents on the need to support religious groups in community service, creating a new Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives upon entering the White House.
Obama said the Bush administration's efforts have been underfunded and often used to promote "partisan interests," by aiding groups in swing states that supported conservative causes.
Obama promised a "new commitment" to the programme, including more aggressive promotion to enlist multi-faith groups that have not sought government funding in the past.
"It will be a critical part of my administration," he said.
Obama was raised predominantly in Hawaii in a non-religious family and was only baptized a Christian as an adult, but he has been more outspoken about his faith than most recent Democratic presidential candidates.
The Illinois senator also worked with faith groups and others as a community organizer in Chicago before entering politics, and has regularly argued that Democrats should not be ceding ground to the Republican Party when it comes to religious voters.
"I didn't grow up in a particularly religious household. But my experience in Chicago showed me how faith and values could be an anchor in my life," Obama said.
Protestant evangelicals, which form about one-quarter of the US electorate, have been a reliable voting block for Republicans in recent elections. But some evangelical leaders have expressed reservations about the party's presumptive nominee John McCain, who has typically been more reserved in discussing his Christian faith.
Obama said that groups of all faiths needed to be mobilized to combat poverty and reduce crime in inner cities.
"If we're going to do something about the injustice of millions of children living in extreme poverty, we need interfaith coalitions ... standing up for the powerless," he said.