Americans United for Separation of Church and State today expressed disappointment that President Barack Obama’s “faith-based” initiative is being rolled out without repeal of Bush-era policies that violate civil rights and civil liberties.
Obama issued an executive order today appointing Joshua DuBois as executive director of the White House faith-based office and setting up an advisory council on faith-based and other issues.
President George W. Bush’s faith-based initiative allowed religious groups that accept tax funding to engage in discriminatory hiring and celebrated faith-based groups that proselytize. Today’s Obama action leaves the Bush executive orders in place including one that specifically authorizes religion-based employment discrimination in publicly funded programs.
“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,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “It should be obvious that taxpayer-funded religious bias offends our civil rights laws, our Constitution and our shared sense of values.”
Questions of religious bias have dogged the faith-based initiative since former President Bush unveiled the program in 2001. Bush insisted that religious groups should have the right to accept public funding and still hire and fire on religious grounds and issued an executive order codifying this “right.”
Americans United joined a coalition of religious and civil liberties groups opposing proselytism and religious discrimination in tax-funded programs. The groups have asked Obama to overturn the Bush executive orders.
In a speech he delivered in July, Obama said he wants civil rights and civil liberties safeguards. Addressing an audience in Zanesville on July 1, Obama said, “[I]f you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them – or against the people you hire – on the basis of their religion.”
Lynn said he wishes that President Obama had discontinued the faith-based office.
“I would rather there be no ‘faith-based’ office,” Lynn said. “But if it exists, it must comply with long-established protections guaranteeing civil rights and civil liberties.”
Lynn noted that in remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast this morning, Obama stressed the need for a faith-based initiative that would do its work “without blurring the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state.”
Remarked Lynn, “I was pleased to hear the president express support for church-state separation. He can put those words into action by making sure that tax dollars do not fund proselytism and religious discrimination in the faith-based initiative.”
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