William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and a man who lives in a perpetual state of outrage because not everyone believes in his religion, is angry again. This time, Donohue’s all worked up because Melissa Rogers, head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, met recently with several non-theistic groups.
“It would be one thing if White House staffers in domestic policy or civil rights invited representatives of these six organizations to discuss their concerns; it is quite another when those who purport to work with people of faith do so,” groused Donohue in a column that is making the rounds on far-right sites. (For the record, the groups that attended the meeting were American Humanist Association, Secular Coalition for America, Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists, Center for Inquiry and Ex-Muslims of North America.)
Donohue needs to read the full name of the office: It’s called the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. (I’ve added the emphasis to make it easy for him.) While the office absolutely does work with faith-based organizations, that’s not its entire mandate. Its goal, under the Biden administration, at least, is to work with a broad cross section of Americans, religious and secular.
At a time when growing numbers of Americans are identifying as “nones” and others are embracing a secular outlook, it just makes sense to include these groups. Americans United has concerns about the “faith-based” approach, but one way to mitigate those is to ensure that secular Americans find the door open to them to the same degree that it’s open to people of faith. (It would also help if the Biden administration were to adopt a series of recommendations AU and dozens of other organizations have endorsed to ensure that taxpayer-funded faith-based programs respect the Constitution and individual rights.)
Behind Donohue’s bluster and outrage there lurks a simple truth: The man does not like people who don’t believe in God, and he’s no fan of secular government. He considers these things to be corrosive. Donohue is a typical religious extremist who believes the answers to all of life’s thorny questions can be found in the narrow segment of religiosity he chooses to embrace.
Millions of Americans don’t see it that way. They’ve grappled with life’s big questions and have concluded that traditional religion is not for them. Some have fashioned their own DIY spirituality. Others have abandoned faith entirely. Still others are spiritual seekers.
At the same time, we now have a president in Washington who has put a respected scholar of religious freedom in charge of faith-based and neighborhood partnerships as opposed to a “prosperity gospel” TV preacher in the thrall of Christian nationalism.
The times are changing, Bill. Get used to it.