Barack Obama (photo), the US Democratic candidate to the White House, said he wanted to provide more money, as well as government support, to faith-based social programmes.
Set up by Georges W. Bush, the current office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives had not lived up to expectations, said the Illinois senator.
He said that the connection of religion and public service was not new in his personal life, adding that the initiative would be “central to our White House mission”.
“While I could sit in church and pray all I want, I wouldn’t be fulfilling God’s will unless I went out and did the Lord’s work”, he said.
While speaking after a tour of a local ministry in Zanesville, Ohio, Mr Obama said that, in order to “reflect a new commitment”, the organisation would be renamed as the Council fo Faith-based and Neighbourhood Partnerships.
$500 million a year is what the proposal will cost, and it will provide training and summer programmes for up to one million children.
Nonetheless, he said that it would be forbidden to discriminate on religious grounds in hiring and from proselytising with public funds, for organisations that received government funds for the programme.
More conservative pronouncements
“I believe deeply in the separation of church and state, but I don’t believe this partnership will endanger that idea”, Obama said.
This announcement, during a speech in the US state of Ohio on Tuesday, was a bid meant to reach out to US religious and evangelical voters, said analysts. They added that more left-wing voters could be alienated by Mr Obama’s recent more conservative pronouncements, regarding issues like rights, government surveillance and capital punishment.
But on Tuesday, senator Obama disputed claims he was shifting positions in a bid to capture more voters.
“I get tagged as being on the left and, when I simply describe what has been my position consistently, then suddenly people act surprised’‘, he said.
“But there hasn’t been substantial shifts there.”
The religious vote will be crucial in November’s presidential election, and both candidates, Barack Obama as well as the Republican John McCain, are vying for it.
Many voter polls show John McCain beating Barack Obama by three to one or more among evangelical Christian voters.
Still, Mr Obama hopes to do better than the previous Democratic presidential candidate, John Kerry. In 2004, Georges W. Bush won four of every five evangelicals against Mr Kerry.