Obama expands Bush's faith-based initiatives

Friday, February 6, 2009

United States President Barack Obama announced on Thursday that he was renaming and expanding an office created by former President George W. Bush, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Barack Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast.

"No matter how much money we invest or how sensibly we design our policies, the change that Americans are looking for will not come from government alone," Obama said, while announcing the new office at the National Prayer Breakfast. "There is a force for good greater than government."

"The goal of this office will not be to favor one religious group over another — or even religious groups over secular groups," Obama elaborated. "It will simply be to work on behalf of those organizations that want to work on behalf of our communities, and to do so without blurring the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state."

Joshua DuBois, the 26-year-old Pentecostal minister who led the Obama campaign's religious outreach program, will direct the new White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

In an interview, DuBois said, "The President is still very much committed to clear constitutionality and legality in this program. He’s committed to nondiscrimination."

When asked if the office would work with religious groups like the Church of Scientology, DuBois said, "There’s no picking or choosing or cherry-picking of groups. That was allowed before, but it will not be the practice moving forward."

"President Obama has put the cart before the horse," said the American Civil Liberties Union's senior legislative counsel, Christopher Anders. "He is expanding the Bush administration's faith-based initiative without putting the most important safeguards in place. The President has created a more powerful office with a greater ability to shovel federal taxpayer dollars to religious groups, but civil-rights protections are being deferred for later study and decisions."