'Faith-Based' Frenzy: AU Responds To Obama's Disappointing Announcement

AU believes any fair review of the faith-based initiative would conclude that taxpayer-funded religious discrimination runs counter to America's civil rights laws and our shared values.

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Have you ever had "one of those days" at work? I'm talking about the kind of day where something takes off, you get to working on it, and the next thing you know nine hours have flown by and you're surprised at how much you've accomplished.

Yesterday was like that here at AU. We knew that President Barack Obama would be issuing an executive order addressing the "faith-based" initiative. We didn't know what it would say, although speculation was rife.

Members of the media began calling on Wednesday and kept it up all day Thursday. Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn appeared on National Public Radio, and mentions of AU's perspective were carried by CNN.com, the McClatchy newspaper chain, the Associated Press, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and many others.

As things began to wind down after 6 p.m., we took a breather to take stock of where we stood. The organization had been operating on full thrust all day. The Legislative Department was talking with allies about the Obama order and discussing what to do about it. The Field Department was getting the word out to members.

We had to admit we were disappointed. In July, Obama gave a major speech on "faith-based" initiatives in Ohio and promised to end proselytism and job discrimination in tax-funded programs. His order yesterday does not do that. In fact, it leaves a series of executive orders issued by George W. Bush in place.

The Obama order does state that White House attorneys and the Justice Department might be called on to give input on certain issues – like bias in hiring. This gives us some hope. AU believes any fair review of the faith-based initiative would conclude that taxpayer-funded religious discrimination runs counter to America's civil rights laws and our shared values.

Americans United will keep pressing for that review. In an ideal world, there would be no White House faith-based office. In the meantime, however, we'll keep pushing to bring it into as much compliance with constitutional values as possible. At a minimum, there must be an end to religious discrimination and proselytism in "faith-based" programs funded by the taxpayer.

One thing that was obvious from yesterday is that members of the media are interested in this issue and understand its implications. The Los Angeles Times, for example, ran an especially perceptive story than cut right to the heart of the matter as summarized in its headline and subheads: "Obama upholds Bush faith policy; Religious groups that discriminate in hiring may still receive federal funding, as Bush declared in 2002. Democrats and civil libertarians are dismayed."

We may be dismayed, but we aren't giving up. Before he issued the executive order yesterday, Obama addressed the National Prayer Breakfast. His language was eloquent and inclusive, and he stressed his belief that the faith-based initiative could function in a way that does not involve "blurring the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state."

Watch the CSPAN video - National Prayer Breakfast with Pres. Obama

Unfortunately, just hours after saying that, Obama issued an executive order that   doesn't toe that line. AU will continue to work to help him see that – even if it means we'll be having a lot more of "those days" at the office.