Obama to create faith-based office
WASHINGTON (AP) – President Barack Obama said Thursday he will establish a White House office of faith-based initiatives that will show no favoritism to any religious group and adhere to the strict separation of church and state.
Addressing the National Prayer Breakfast, Obama spoke of how faith has often been a divisive tool, responsible for war and prejudice. But, he said, „there is no religion whose central tenet is hate. There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being,” and all religions teach people to love and care for one another. That is the common ground underlying his faith-based office, he said.
In personal terms, he talked about the role of faith in his life, from his Muslim-born father and a mother skeptical of organized religion to his own embrace of Christianity as a young man.
„In a world that grows smaller by the day, perhaps we can begin to crowd out the destructive forces of zealotry and make room for the healing power of understanding,” Obama told the gathering of lawmakers, dignitaries and world leaders. „This is my hope. This is my prayer.„
Dogged throughout the presidential campaign by rumors that he was a Muslim, Obama described his background in a household that wasn’t religious.
„I had a father who was born a Muslim but became an atheist, grandparents who were non-practicing Methodists and Baptists, and a mother who was skeptical of organized religion, even as she was the kindest, most spiritual person I’ve ever known. She was the one who taught me as a child to love, and to understand, and to do unto others as I would want done,” he said.
Obama planned to sign an executive order later in the day creating the White House Office on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. It would expand and refocus the faith-based office founded by former President George W. Bush.
Obama said the organization will not favor any one religious group over another, will work with communities and will act „without blurring the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state.”
The president will also appoint Joshua DuBois, a 26-year-old Pentecostal minister who headed religious outreach for Obama’s Senate office and later his campaign, to lead the partnerships office and name 25 religious and secular leaders to a new advisory board.
During his presidential campaign, Obama said he wanted to expand White House faith-based efforts begun under Bush. But while he endorsed Bush’s initiative to give religious groups more access to federal funding, he also promised to make some changes to the office.
Obama’s advisers want to be certain tax dollars sent to the faith-based social service groups are used for secular purposes, such as feeding the hungry or housing the homeless, and not for religious evangelism. The administration doesn’t want to be perceived as managing the groups yet does want transparency and accountability.
Obama pledged during the campaign to allow taxpayer-funded religious institutions to hire and fire based on religion – but only for the activities run on private funding.
One question is whether the faith-based office will issue grants under the Bush rules while the hiring policy is worked out.
By PHILIP ELLIOTT
Associated Press Writer