Publicly Funded Presidential Prayers?: Former ‘Faith-Based’ Office Director Releases Book Of Daily Devotionals

While it isn’t unusual for a staffer to leave the White House and write a memoir, it is unusual to publish – and make money from – work produced on the taxpayer dime.

If you’ve ever wondered about the spiritual life of President Obama (and I bet you have), the former head of his Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships has a real treat for you in his new book of daily devotionals.

Just in time for the holidays, Joshua DuBois, a Pentecostal minister who did outreach to the religious community during Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and directed the faith-based office until stepping down in February, compiled a sampling of spiritual messages from the many he sent Obama each morning over the years.

The President’s Devotional is a collection of 365 reflections composed by DuBois, reportedly at Obama’s request. Dubois told Time magazine: “[Obama] has obviously talked a lot about how the devotionals are meaningful to him.”

Jon Favreau, a former Obama speechwriter, backed up DuBois’ sentiment.

“When you are president, and you are inside the bubble, and most of your day is spent in meetings and with briefing books, it is always good to have something come from outside that little world of the bubble to inspire you and motivate you,” he told Time.  

But none of that, of course, is really the issue here. What’s troubling is that DuBois seems to have used taxpayer-funded time to nurture Obama’s religious interests. That idea doesn’t sit well with Americans United.

“It seems quite inappropriate for the faith-based director to be composing prayers and Bible lessons on the government dime,” Maggie Garrett, AU’s legislative director, told Time. “And it is especially true when there was really important work to be done, such as reforming the faith-based initiative rules.”

DuBois, whom Time once called Obama’s “Pastor-In-Chief,” responded that while he did spend roughly 60-90 minutes composing each daily message, he did that work when he was off the clock.

“I definitely did it before work or on the weekends and stuff like that,” he said, adding that he mostly sent these emails from his personal account.

If that’s true, and DuBois spent an average of 75 minutes per day on these devotionals, that adds up to eight hours and 45 minutes per week. Do White House staffers really have that much free time?

Unfortunately, DuBois’ attempt to profit from his time in the White House is far from the only church-state controversy he has raised. Time noted that DuBois came up with the idea of the White House Easter Prayer Breakfast and he advocated for letting right-wing pastor Rick Warren give the invocation at Obama’s first inauguration, as well as for anti-gay pastor Louie Giglio to deliver the closing prayer at Obama’s second inauguration.

Giglio ended up pulling out of the inauguration ceremony when it came to light that he had once given an anti-gay sermon, and DuBois left his post the following month.

But it is what DuBois did behind the scenes that is perhaps most telling of his stance toward church-state separation. Americans United has long opposed the faith-based office, and we have attempted to convince the Obama administration to stop allowing religious groups that receive federal funds through the Faith-Based Initiative to use that money to discriminate. To that end AU met with DuBois a handful of times, but he was never willing to have a serious discussion about our issues.

While it isn’t unusual for a staffer to leave the White House and write a memoir, it is unusual to publish – and make money from – work produced on the taxpayer dime. He’s certainly no David Kuo, who was the number-two man in the faith-based office under President George W. Bush. He wrote a real memoir explaining how he became disillusioned when he realized Bush’s faith-based office was nothing more than an effort to pander to the Religious Right.

Kuo, who died of a brain tumor this year at age 44, would not have agreed with Americans United on some issues. But he did us all an important service by exposing what was really going on inside the faith-based office.

DuBois, on the other hand, provided no such service. All he did was profit off the work he was already paid to do while working for the federal government.

What’s more, DuBois seems to have cared far more about being a religious/spiritual advisor to the president than doing what heads of the faith-based office are actually supposed to do: focus on serious policy matters.

Perhaps DuBois’ book will be an interesting read to some, but I won’t be picking up a copy.