Coach Declines Invitation To Join Obama Faith Council After AU Protest

A former professional football coach has turned down a seat on President Barack Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships after Americans United protested his ties to Religious Right groups.

Tony Dungy, formerly the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts and a popular figure in the evangelical Christian community, was tapped by Obama to serve on the advisory council, reported blogger Dan Gilgoff of U.S. News & World Report.

Americans United was alarmed by the choice and pointed out that Dungy has well-known ties with intolerant Religious Right groups. In 2007, for example, he spoke at a fund-raising dinner for the Indiana Family Institute (IFI), a James Dobson-affiliated group that opposes gay rights, reproductive rights and separation of church and state.

Dungy, in his remarks at the IFI dinner, supported an Indiana constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and suggested that public policy ought to reflect religious doctrine.

“I feel like telling people when they look at this issue of same-sex marriage…. I’m not on anybody’s side,” Dungy said. “I’m on the Lord’s side.”

According to U.S. News, Dungy accepted the IFI’s Friend of the Family Award and said he “embraced” the IFI’s support for the gay marriage ban.

“IFI is saying what the Lord says,” Dungy asserted.

In a press statement, Barry W. Lynn, Americans United’s executive director, remarked, “I am surprised and disappointed that Dungy has been asked to serve on the council. His view that civil-marriage law should reflect religious doctrine is not in keeping with the Constitution.”

Added Lynn, “It is extremely important for the advisory council to uphold civil rights and civil liberties, and I am concerned that Coach Dungy is far from the best person to do that.”

Lynn said it is important that the advisory council not advocate views such as Dungy’s that undercut church-state separation.

When the final list of ten appointees to the Council was released a few days later, Dungy’s name was not on it. Dungy later released a statement saying he had been asked to serve but decided not to because of the time commitment. He reportedly will still work with the White House on initiatives designed to promote “responsible fatherhood.”

Those named to the council April 6 were Anju Bhargava, founder, Asian Indian Women of America; Bishop Charles Blake, presiding bishop, Church of God in Christ, Los Angeles; Noel Castellanos, Christian Community Development Association, Chicago, Ill.; the Rev. Peg Chemberlin, president-elect, National Council of Churches USA; Nathan Diament, director of public policy, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America; Harry Knox, director, Religion and Faith Program, Human Rights Campaign; Dalia Mogahed, executive director, Gallup Center for Muslim Studies Washington, D.C.; Anthony Picarello, general counsel, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; Nancy Ratzan, national president, National Council of Jewish Women; and Dr. Sharon Watkins, general minister and president, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Americans United remains wary of the entire concept of a White House advisory council formed largely of religious leaders and will continue to monitor the situation. The Obama administration sponsored a briefing for council members and other religious and community leaders April 6-7, and AU’s Lynn was invited to attend. (See “Perspective”)