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Obama's Faithful Flock | The Nation

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Obama's Faithful Flock

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Moreover, by appointing former campaign staff to faith-based posts, Obama risks the appearance of politicizing the effort, something Bush and Rove notoriously did. "The only way to avoid the appearance is to do it differently," says the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, a religious liberty and church-state separation watchdog group. "The White House needs to be reminded of that. They're naïve if they assume that people aren't going to look at that."

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Sarah Posner
Sarah Posner is senior editor of Religion Dispatches, where she writes a blog about religion and politics. Follow her...

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The Rev. Irene Monroe, an LGBT rights activist and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School, says, "It makes sense, in a political sense, to keep Joshua [DuBois]. He's made these contacts. It's not about effective change. It's about, How do I keep that voting bloc?"

Although Kelley did not work on the Obama campaign, CACG was described by Katie Paris, communications director for the Democratic-leaning Faith in Public Life (FPL), as having had a "very aggressive engagement in this election cycle." The co-founder of CACG, Elizabeth Frawley Bagley, who helped the Obama campaign reach out to Catholics, is now the State Department's special representative for global partnerships and is working on global interfaith relations.

After the election FPL and CACG helped promote the idea that Catholics were crucial swing voters who shifted to Obama. Michael Sean Winters, author of the book Left at the Altar: How the Democrats Lost the Catholics and How the Catholics Can Save the Democrats, wrote about Kelley's HHS appointment, "As well as helping faith-based organizations get funding for their programs, she will serve as liaison between the Churches and the administration."

church-state separation advocates would prefer to eliminate the faith-based office entirely. But knowing that Obama was intent on keeping it, they supported him because of his campaign promises to reverse the most egregious aspects of Bush's policies. But Obama has reneged on his pledge, made in a July 2008 speech in Zanesville, Ohio, to undo Bush-era rules permitting direct taxpayer funding of religious institutions and allowing institutions that receive federal grants to engage in hiring discrimination based on religion.

On the direct-funding question, Obama is "encouraging," but not requiring, grant recipients to form secular nonprofits in order to receive federal aid. He punted on the hiring issue by referring questions on a "case-by-case" basis to White House and Justice Department lawyers; DuBois will help decide which cases are referred for legal evaluation. In addition, although Obama promised to end proselytizing by faith-based grantees, no policy sets forth rules against proselytizing or a method of enforcing them.

DuBois has promised a full overhaul of the White House OFBNP and federal agency faith-based, neighborhood partnership centers to increase the accountability of grant recipients and to monitor proselytizing, and he pledges to make clear to grant recipients "what the boundaries are." But defining what counts as proselytizing, never mind monitoring instances of it in hundreds of federally funded programs across the country, is a daunting task. In subsequent press conferences, DuBois has been vague about how he will establish or monitor such boundaries. (DuBois declined to be interviewed for this article, and the White House press office did not respond to repeated requests for comment.)

"I am very disappointed that President Obama's faith-based program is being rolled out without barring evangelism and religious discrimination in taxpayer-funded programs," says the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "It should be obvious that taxpayer-funded religious bias offends our civil rights laws, our Constitution and our shared sense of values."

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