Protest Obama’s Faith-based Executive Order! Annie Laurie Gaylor & Dan Barker

Statement by Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker
Foundation Co-Presidents

Widespread public outcry greeted the 2001 announcement by Pres. Bush that he was creating a “faith-based initiative.” Eight years later, there was scarcely a peep from media and commentators over Pres. Barack Obama’s endorsement and continuation of a program which taxes citizens to support ministries, and which places needy Americans at the mercy of proselytizing groups in order to receive public social services.

With so many priorities on the presidential plate, it was more than distressing to see Pres. Obama copy a page off the George W. Bush script, and issue an executive order to create the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Creation of another White House faith-based office took precedent, for instance, over freeing stem-cell research lines! Scientists, medical pioneers and suffering families, as of press-time, are still waiting for Obama to revoke Bush’s embryonic stem-cell line embargo, to undo the harm of two presidential vetoes.

The door was slammed shut on the Foundation and on us personally as individual taxpayers by the Supreme Court in 2007, when we were told we did not have standing to legally challenge Bush’s creation of the White House faith-based office.

The Hein v. FFRF decision said the executive branch has carte blanche to violate the Establishment Clause if it uses discretionary funding sources. It was necessary either for the Executive Branch to return to fact-based government and funding, or for Congress to develop a backbone and defund the faith-based offices.

Any hope that the administration of “hope and change” would put our nation back on constitutional track in regards to the “faith-based initiative” was quashed by Obama’s February executive order.

Pres. Obama’s support of the program is no surprise. As a candidate, he announced his intention to rename the faith-based initiative to the faith-based council. But last July, Obama at least firmly vowed he would not let federal funds go to faith-based groups that discriminate on religion in hiring, firing or services.

Now Obama has backpedaled even on that minor reform. Obama did not rescind Bush’s provision to allow faith-based groups to discriminate in their hiring practices. The new order simply refers questions about discriminating groups to the Attorney General for a determination. Imagine the mess!

In announcing the executive order, Obama said: “There is a force for good greater than government. It is an expression of faith, . . .” This pious assertion is no deviation from the Bush Administration. Obama will keep faith-based offices at all the agencies where Bush placed them.

The White House even brags that Obama’s faith-based effort will be broader than Bush’s. The White House faith-based office will be a “substantial programming and policy arm of the federal government,” according to the White House. It is even charged with helping to develop global policies!

Obama officially named a 26-year-old Pentecostal minister to head the White’s House’s new faith-based office. Josh DuBois previously directed religious outreach for the Obama campaign. While there is no “right person” to direct an office we consider unconstitutional, and while DuBois’ position on social issues is unclear, it must be pointed out that Pentecostals are generally to the far right. They are bible literalists and creationists, therefore they are almost all antigay rights and antiabortion. DuBois belongs to the same tradition that made Sarah Palin’s religious views notorious. Pentecostals are the “noisy” fundamentalists who believe in the “gifts of the spirit”: speaking in tongues, faith healing, prophecy, discernment of spirit (exorcism).

A 25-member faith-based advisory council includes a few representatives of secular social agencies. But most are representatives of religious groups with a stake in funding religious groups, including the president of World Vision, and the president of Catholic Charities USA, etc.

Before the faith-based schemes began, initially at the instigation of John Ashcroft, religious charities were granted vast sums of taxpayer monies to provide social services. All they had to do to qualify was to take down their crosses, create a secular arm and keep separate books. Obama should have returned to these simple and appropriate safeguards. Where public money goes, public accountability should follow.

Secularists, freethinkers and those of us who are the true conservatives–who wish to conserve what is greatest about our country and its godless constitution–must make a great fuss over this blow to the Establishment Clause.

While Obama, in his National Prayer Breakfast speech, gave lip service to working with faith-based groups “without blurring the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state,” it is clear he needs as much bolstering on this issue as that constitutional wall needs rebuilding.

Please register your dismay over the faith-based executive order in a letter to the editor, and:

Phone the White House Comment Line at 202/456-1111
Freedom depends on freethinkers.
Read the full statement.

Dissecting National Prayer Breakfast Remarks

By Annie Laurie Gaylor
and Dan Barker
Foundation Co-Presidents

President Barack Obama used the occasion of the Feb. 5 National Prayer Breakfast to announce his executive order establishing a White House Council of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Obama claimed that taking some “responsibility for the well-being of people . . . requires a living, breathing, active [religious] faith.”

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a new convert to Roman Catholicism and the prayer breakfast keynoter, piously intoned: “There are limits to humanism and beyond those limits only God can work.”

Beware when politicians start turning over government responsibility to the gods. The saying around the Freedom From Religion Foundation office is: Nothing fails like prayer. Is there a greater confession of human failure than turning to prayer?

To hear our new president laud prayer as if prayer accomplishes something, is most disappointing. Obama claimed the prayer breakfast tradition had its roots in the Depression: “The leaders of the community did all that they could for those who were suffering in their midst. And then they decided to do something more: they prayed. . . .

Prayer is not “doing something more.” It is the ultimate non-action, the ultimate cop-out.

Obama, to his credit, admitted in his prayer breakfast address that “some subscribe to no faith at all.” He laudably divulged that his family background is nonreligious: a Muslim-turned-atheist father, non-practicing Methodist and Baptist grandparents, and a mother “skeptical of organized religion, even as she was the kindest, most spiritual person I’ve ever known.”

The reason Obama gave for jettisoning his family’s tradition of rationality and embracing Christianity was seeing the example of religious “church folks” in Chicago. We would prefer he emulate his mother, and the nonreligious Jane Addams, who insisted that Hull House, which she founded, be secular. People “prefer a rational world to believe in and live in,” Addams wrote.

The idea that religion has some corner on charity is a myth. Religion gets the credit for so much that taxpayers are billed for. Religion grabs the biggest chunk of charitable giving, yet studies show that most donations are used for church infrastructure, religious promotion and salaries.

Obama’s address to the prayer breakfast had thoughtful moments. He admitted that “we have seen faith wielded as a tool to divide us from one another–as an excuse for prejudice and intolerance. Wars have been waged, innocents have been slaughtered.”

Yet Obama apparently is not familiar with the teachings of the so-called holy book with which he has aligned himself: “But no matter what we choose to believe, let us remember that there is no religion whose central tenet is hate. There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much we know,” Obama said.

Mass killings in the name of God are one of the major themes of the Old Testament! It takes eight typeset pages just to list the major mass killings ordered, committed, or approved by the God of the bible. (Read chapter 5 of Ruth Hurmence Green’s The Born Again Skeptic’s Guide to the Bible, published by FFRF.) “Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones” is just one of endless godly injunctions to slaughter innocents.

Hate is an integral part of the teachings of Jesus, who said: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yeah, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple,” according to Luke 14:26.

The crown teaching of Christianity is that it is praiseworthy for a father to sacrifice his own son to propitiate the so-called sins of humankind.

Injunctions to hate and kill are common to all major written religions. It takes author Sam Harris more than five typeset pages in his book, The End of Faith, to simply excerpt the portions from the Koran which speak of Allah’s wrath toward unbelievers.

Obama claims the tradition of the National Prayer Breakfast is to “rededicate ourselves to the mission of love and service that lies at the heart of all humanity.” That excludes and diminishes nonreligious, nonChristian Americans. Religion is not a synonym for love or charity. The president should have picked a secular setting if his purpose was to appeal to “all humanity.” The privately-run National Prayer Breakfast is a tradition of a shadowy evangelical outfit known as The Family. Journalist Jeff Sharlet documented in his book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalist at the Heart of American Power, that the annual event is the public face of a rather sinister evangelical group which seems to have been on friendly terms with dictators the world wide.

U.S. politicians and foreign dignitaries turning out for the obligatory chance to wear religion on their sleeves grant credibility to a fringe evangelical group that most emphatically does not believe in the separation between church and state. What this nation needs, in the immortal words of Anne Newport Royall, the nation’s first state/church lobbyist, is: “Good works, not long prayers.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation