December 2013 Church & State | People & Events

The former head of President Barack Obama’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships has published a book of daily devotionals that critics at Americans United say might have been compiled at least partly on the taxpayers’ dime. 

Joshua DuBois, a Pentecostal minister who did outreach to the religious community during Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and directed the faith-based office until stepping down in February, has compiled a sampling of spiritual messages from the many he sent Obama each morning over the years.

The President’s Devotional is a collection of 365 reflections composed by DuBois, reportedly at Obama’s request. Dubois told Time magazine: “[Obama] has obviously talked a lot about how the devotionals are meaningful to him.”

But Americans United suspects DuBois may have used his time on the taxpayer-funded clock to nurture Obama’s religious interests.

“It seems quite inappropriate for the faith-based director to be composing prayers and Bible lessons on the government dime,” Maggie Garrett, AU’s legislative director, told Time magazine. “And it is especially true when there was really important work to be done, such as reforming the faith-based initiative rules.”

DuBois, whom Time once called Obama’s “Pastor-In-Chief,” responded that while he did spend roughly 60-90 minutes composing each daily message, he did that work when he was off the clock.

“I definitely did it before work or on the weekends and stuff like that,” he said, adding that he mostly sent these emails from his personal account.

AU says the math doesn’t add up. If Du­Bois spent an average of 75 minutes per day on these devotionals, he worked on them for a whopping total of eight hours and 45 minutes per week.

What’s more, DuBois’ attempt to profit from his time in the White House is far from the only church-state controversy he has raised. Time noted that DuBois came up with the idea of the White House Easter Prayer Breakfast, and he advocated for letting right-wing pastor Rick Warren give the invocation at Obama’s first inauguration, as well as for anti-gay pastor Louie Giglio to deliver the closing prayer at Obama’s second inauguration. (Giglio ended up pulling out of the inauguration ceremony when his anti-gay comments came to light.)

Americans United noted that while it isn’t unusual for a staffer to leave the White House and write a memoir, it is unusual to publish – and make money from – work produced on the taxpayer dime.

AU has also criticized DuBois because he seemed far more interested in acting as a religious/spiritual advisor to the president than doing what heads of the faith-based office are actually supposed to do: focus on serious policy matters.