Friday, February 6, 2009

Obama Announces Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships

President Obama signed an executive order to create the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Obama named Joshua DuBois, a minister who did religious outreach during the campaign, to head the office. He also named 25 diverse religious and secular leaders to a new advisory board.

The announcement came after Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast where he said the program would adhere to strict separation of church and state. He said; "The goal of this office will not be to favor one religious group over another – or even religious groups over secular groups. It will simply be to work on behalf of those organizations that want to work on behalf of our communities, and to do so without blurring the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state."

The initiative under President Bush faced many constitutional challenges, specifically regarding whether groups receiving tax dollars could use those federal funds to hire on the basis of religion. A few groups have issued statements in response to the order, disappointment calling on Obama's failure to overturn the policy allowing participating religious groups to continue discrimination in hiring. Americans United for Separation of Church and State's press release cites executive director Rev. Barry W. Lynn; "It should be obvious that taxpayer-funded religious bias offends our civil rights laws, our Constitution and our shared sense of values." According to an Associated Press article, Obama "asked White House lawyers and the Justice Department to write a policy that would address the question of hiring."

Under Obama, the office will emphasize the work with neighborhood groups. At the prayer breakfast, Obama also said, "whether it's a secular group advising families facing foreclosure or faith-based groups providing job-training to those who need work, few are closer to what's happening on our streets and in our neighborhoods than these organizations. People trust them. Communities rely on them."

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