FFRF: Faith-based Office at White House Violates State/Church Separation

Action Alert! Protest Obama’s Faith-based Executive Order!

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

With so many priorities on the presidential plate, it was discouraging to see President Barack Obama devote precious time to schmoozing with religionists today at the National Prayer Breakfast. To what purpose, other than to be seen wearing religion on his sleeve?

The nation is needing and awaiting sweeping action and reform, and we’re being told to pray? 

Far more distressing is the fact that Mr. Obama used the occasion to copy a page off the George W. Bush script, and announced at that breakfast that he is issuing an executive order to create the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

The national treasury is bleeding and we’re being told to throw more tax dollars at religion?

Scientists, medical pioneers and suffering families are still waiting for Obama to revoke Bush’s embryonic stem-cell line embargo, to undo the harm of two presidential vetoes wielded expressly to kowtow to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Well over 70% of Americans support embryonic stem-cell research; even Nancy Reagan and the Mormon Orrin Hatch endorse it!

Yet there been silence on this front from the White House since Obama’s inaugural promise to “restore science to its rightful place.” The creation of another White House faith-based office takes precedent over freeing stem-cell research lines?

The door was slammed shut on the Foundation and on us 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 in effect gave the executive branch carte blanche to violate the Establishment Clause. If general appropriations are used by the White House to violate the Establishment Clause, state/church violations by the executive branch are not challengeable in today’s America.

Any hope that the administration of “hope and change” would put our nation back on constitutional track was quashed by Obama’s action today. His 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 is backpedaling 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 supposedly provides a legal process for organizations to go through to ensure hiring is legal and nondiscriminatory—namely, referring such cases 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.

Today Obama also 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 it is possible BuBois’ positions on social issues may deviate from those of his church, Pentecostals are generally right-wing. They are bible literalists, 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). Normally the private religious views of White House staff would be off limits. DuBois’ extremist religious views have become relevant by his elevation to an office at the White House to promote faith and funding of faith-based social services.

A 25-member 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 their crosses down, create a secular arm and keep separate books. Obama should have returned to these simple safeguards.

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 today’s blows to the Establishment Clause.

Tragic news came today–that the frail but constitutionally stalwart Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg just underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer. Justice Ginsburg has been a friend to freedom and rationality on the court. If health forces Ginsburg to resign, it is essential that the last woman on the U.S. Supreme Court not only be replaced by another woman, but that Ginsburg’s replacement demonstrate her same understanding and agreement of the Jeffersonian “wall of separation between church and state.”

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.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., is a national association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics) that has been working since 1978 to keep church and state separate.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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