Thursday, February 05, 2009

President Obama, Reigniting Activism

I'm very excited about President Obama retaining his sense of calm, and focus, in the midst of all this partisan politics, and fighting over the Economic Recovery/Stimulus Bill.
Now I've learned our new President has expanded the role of an office CREATED by former President George W. Bush.
Here's an article(see below) on what is certain to be quite controversial. As far as I'm concerned, so long as separation of church and state is respected, I have no problem with the outreach President Obama seems to be seeking; I feel sure his embrace of religious groups for help in addressing poverty and other peace & social justice concerns comes from his activities as a community organizer.
As a proud member of the peace & social justice group known as Pax Christi, I am delighted that President Obama is willing to "speak truth to power" in saying that ALL faiths will be respected. Particularly encouraging to me, is his statement about outreach to other countries, and scholarly investigation of support by religious groups, in solving crises of peace & social justice.
I do think oversight on the actual monies spent could be problematic, but we'll see.
I'd love to hear your comments on this.
Peace, kids.
Obama creates faith-based office with wide mission
By PHILIP ELLIOTT, Associated Press Writer Philip Elliott, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON – Declaring that "there is a force for good greater than government," President Barack Obama on Thursday established a White House office of faith-based initiatives with a broader mission than the one overseen by his Republican predecessor. Obama said the new office, which he created by executive order, would reach out to organizations that provide help "no matter their religious or political beliefs."

Obama said the office would work with nonprofit organizations "both secular and faith-based" and would help them determine how to make a bigger impact in their cities, learn their obligations under the law and cut through government red tape.

In a time of economic crisis, the president said, it was important for the government to help distressed Americans but added that "the change that Americans are looking for will not come from government alone."

Obama said the top priority of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will be "making community groups an integral part of our economic recovery and poverty a burden fewer have to bear when recovery is complete."

To lead the office, Obama appointed Joshua DuBois, a 26-year-old Pentecostal minister who headed religious outreach for Obama's Senate office and his presidential campaign. He also named 25 religious and secular leaders to a new advisory board.

"The big picture is that President Obama believes faith-based and smaller secular neighborhood organizations can play a role in American renewal. They can work with the federal government to address big problems," DuBois said in an interview with The Associated Press. "We're also going to make sure we have a keener eye toward the separation of church and state."

Obama said the office would also work to reach out overseas "to foster interfaith dialogue with leaders and scholars around the world."

Obama's order expanded and redefined a similar office established by President George W. Bush. Focused primarily on faith-based initiatives, the Bush office sparked constitutional questions about whether the separation of church and state would be preserved, particularly if groups receiving tax dollars sought to hire on the basis of religion.

Groups that were critical of the Bush faith-based office — including the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and People For the American Way — issued statements Thursday expressing disappointment in the Obama version. All said that by failing to repeal Bush policies, the White House will allow participating religious groups to continue discrimination in hiring.

The ACLU also charged that the new advisory council amounted to "a president giving his favored clergy a governmental stamp of approval."

Before signing the order at the White House, Obama told the annual National Prayer Breakfast that the program would not show favoritism to any religious group and would adhere to a strict separation of church and state.

Addressing the gathering of lawmakers, dignitaries and world leaders, 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," he said, and all religions teach people to love and care for one another. That is the common ground underlying the faith-based office, he said.

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 seeks 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.

"There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this hiring problem," said Ira C. Lupu, a professor at the George Washington University School of Law. "It might be at the end of the day, faith-based hiring is going to be allowed in some government-funded programs and not in others."

Obama on Thursday asked White House lawyers and the Justice Department to write a policy that would address the question of hiring.

"There is a pretty clear lack of legal clarity and data in this area. This mechanism allows us to explore those areas on a case-by-case basis and find out exactly where things are," DuBois said.

Lupu said Bush-era faith-based regulations were ambiguous and sought to limit faith-based groups as little as possible. Obama's order, on the other hand, emphasizes oversight of how taxpayers dollars are spent, making sure they don't go to religious purposes, he said.

"He's signaling, 'We are going to take more seriously than the Bush people did the constitutional concerns about what it is the government may or may not directly support with government money,'" he said.


Associated Press writers Eric Gorski in Denver and Tom Raum in Washington contributed to this report.


Lisa Allender said...

And yes, I am deliberately being ironic with "Reigniting Activism", because I know that President Obama's initiative will ignite activism within the faith-based communities and the secular organizations which do community outreach, but I also know his expansion of this office may ignite activists for various civil rights groups, who may fear discriminatory hiring practices. Is this fear baased in reality?

Collin Kelley said...

I'm disappointed Obama didn't address the discrimination issue about hiring and service.

Lisa Allender said...

Collin Kelley--I hear ya. I'm certain he will. In the article I re-printed at this entry, it says a commission is being set up to investigate how best to appropriate hiring, and the dol-ing out of monies. It would definitely be wrong-headed, not to mention illegal, and unethical, if for example, an LGBT person was denied a job simply because some (religious, or faith-based) group did not approve. They CANNOT do that, if it is for programs for which they are accepting $$ from the government!

Lydia said...

I'm glad that I read your commentary before reading the article because you calmed what would have been my knee-jerk reaction against keeping that particular office going. I see your points as valid but I still wish the White House would get out of the faith business in any regard.

Lisa Allender said...

Hi Lydia--Rest assured The White House under President Obama is NOT going into the "faith business". I think he's being very very PRACTICAL--after all, houses of worship(mosques, churches, temples, synagogues)and secular organizations(Habitat for Humanity, Hands-On Atlanta to name a couple near where I live) have huge amounts of volunteers, contacts, and resources. He(President Obama) is just utilizing these already-in-existence assistance agencies, and allowing government money to be applied where it can be of the most use.

Marianna said...

hello Lisa,

I just wanted to say thank you for you comment and for wanting to follow my blog. I consider this to be an honour...

Sorry I do not comment on the subject of the post, i am going out right now but will try to come back and read :-)

I am also a 'follower' now so...till next time

Take care
peace and love

Lisa Allender said...

Marianna--Thank you for becoming a 'Follower". Love your Blog from Greece, and am adding it/YOU to my list of Bloggers & Links.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

i think the greatest thing about Obama so far is that he's been so quick to make changes. Only history will show if they are the right changes, but i don't think anyone will be upset when Guantanamo Bay closes

Lisa Allender said...

Hi Pixies--Yes, I'm soooo relieved that Gitmo is going to (finally!) be closed. How we, the USA, could even "debate" what constitutes torture, is sickening, because it begs the question:
Who have we become?(Or perhaps, who WERE WE, the past several years?)
And make no mistake, there are still people(the right-wing that STILL supports the policies of the former Administration(sigh))who actually believe Gitmo is necessary for us to be "safe".(second sigh)

KATE EVANS said...

Lisa, I bet he will address the discrimination issue too. I've noticed that when he gets feedback he, imagine this, actually LISTENS and RESPONDS. He also acknowledges when he's made mistakes. It's amazing after the narccicism and insanity of W.

Lisa Allender said...

Hi Kate Evans--Yes, we are sooooo fortunate that we have President Obama. Do you think the George W. Administration will be held accountable? Or charged with any wrong-doing(especially Cheney and Rumsfeld)??