'Faith-Based' Bungle: WSJ Op-Ed Writer Gets It Wrong

AU would rather be on the inside, pushing for change and seeking improvements.

The Wall Street Journal's editorial page takes a potshot at Americans United and Barry Lynn today.

That's not surprising. The Journal's news department is staffed by lots of skilled and professional reporters who have done some crackerjack reporting on the Religious Right over the years. Fortunately, there's a wall of separation between those folks and the editorial page staff.

The latter is, as the saying goes, to the right of Attila the Hun.

In her "Faith-Based Double Standards" essay today, Mollie Ziegler Hemingway complains that President Barack Obama is getting a free pass on the "faith-based" initiative. She cites a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts purporting to find that Obama's faith-based initiative isn't generating nearly the coverage that Bush's did. The implication seems to be that the "liberal media" isn't subjecting Obama to the same level of scrutiny.

I respect the folks at Pew. They do some good research about religion in public life. But this time I think they overlooked a simple point that explains these results: When Bush unveiled the faith-base initiative, it was his first domestic program. It was seen as new and ground-breaking, so it was big news.

Obama is merely continuing Bush's approach. Fair or not, from the media's perspective, that's just not as newsworthy. You're not going to see headlines in the paper reading, "Existing Program To Continue."

Hemingway is also wrong to imply that Americans United is suddenly less concerned about the faith-based initiative. I have to wonder if she has been to our Web site lately. We've run articles in Church & State about our concerns over Obama's approach. We've issued press releases and have talked to any media outlet that will listen. We've written blog items. (Here are just a few.)

I don't think anyone could look at this material and fail to understand that we're disappointed. AU wants Obama to fix the initiative's glaring constitutional defects. We have not been shy about saying that.

Finally, Hemingway notes that Lynn serves on a task force that examines the constitutional issues raised by the faith-based initiative. She implies that this is some type of sellout.

It's the exact opposite. AU would rather be on the inside, pushing for change and seeking improvements. Given an opportunity to engage the process, we took it. Barry has not watered down his views one iota. At task force meetings, he pushes the church-state separationist perspective. I'm sure this does not always please proponents of the faith-based initiative, but Barry was asked to articulate AU's view and he does.

By the way, Barry would have been happy to serve in a similar capacity during the Bush administration. It was never offered. Bush preferred to take his counsel only from groups that he knew agreed with him.

Obama has put both proponents and opponents of the faith-based initiative on the task force and other bodies that advise him on this subject. We interpret this to mean that he and his staff must want to hear all perspectives, and that's what AU is doing: giving them the separationist view.

Will it make a difference? Will the faith-based initiative eventually be changed in a way that pleases AU and its allies? We don't know yet. But there's one thing we do know for sure: It won't happen if we don't push for it.

I hope, Ms. Hemingway, this sheds a little light on what's really going on with the faith-based initiative. It's not nearly as ominous as you think.