Staffers with the transition team of President Barack Obama have been meeting with various religious and public policy organizations as they hash out the future of the “faith-based” initiative.
Obama has already stated that the office will remain open. He plans to rename it the White House Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and make other changes.
Americans United and other groups have been urging Obama to rescind an executive order issued by President George W. Bush that gives religious groups the right to engage in hiring discrimination while still receiving tax funding. Transition team members have met with Americans United staff members and others to discuss this and other issues.
Obama has also convened an ad-hoc advisory group on the faith-based issue. In December, U.S. News & World Report quoted Paul Corts, president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, who commented on these meetings.
“The president’s Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships is not being created in a vacuum,” Corts said. “Our group is only an advisory ad hoc group invited to serve by the transition team, but we’re very hopeful and optimistic. Our advisory group discussions have been wide ranging, robust and with diverse views – but with civility.”
Evangelical leader Jim Wallis later told U.S. News that issues like hiring bias “have been in the conversation.”
He added, “But I would not expect any significant changes in the near term. Over time, I expect the administration will sit down with organizations already involved in this work, and they’ll be worked out in a way that preserves the religious identity of the organization and that [is] consistent with civil rights.”
Wallis said there has been talk about ways to make the initiative “work better, smoother, easier, so it’s more faith friendly.”
Shortly before leaving office, the Bush White House issued a final report lauding the faith-based initiative as a great success. Americans United took issue with that.
“The Bush initiative played crass politics with social service funding and jeopardized civil rights and civil liberties,” said Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “All the PR spin in the world can’t turn this monumental Bush failure into a success.”
Lynn noted that even former Bush administration staff conceded that the faith-based initiative was often used for partisan purposes or as a way to reward Bush’s fundamentalist political allies.
“President Bush should have gotten a Golden Globe,” he continued, “for playing a ‘compassionate conservative’ while doing precious little to actually help disadvantaged Americans.
“President-elect Obama has promised to roll back the Bush administration’s civil rights and civil liberties infractions,” Lynn concluded, “and we hope he will keep his commitment.”