President Obama on Thursday signed an executive order establishing the new White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Among the key points of the White House press release announcing the office:
- There will be a mechanism for the executive director of the office to work through the White House counsel to seek the advice of the attorney general on "difficult legal and constitutional issues." (Obama had said during the campaign that he would not allow groups to take religion into account when hiring, but this appears to mean the hiring issue is still the subject of debate. The Washington Post reports that and other legal issues will be decided on a "case-by-case basis.")
- In addition to assisting community groups in providing social services, its goals will include helping to address teenage pregancy and finding ways to reduce abortion, and working with the National Security Council to foster interfaith dialogue around the world.
- The president also is naming a 25-member advisory council for the office composed of a wide array of faith leaders, including Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism director and counsel Rabbi David Saperstein.
Here’s the White House press release:
President Barack Obama today signed an executive order establishing the new White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will work on behalf of Americans committed to improving their communities, no matter their religious or political beliefs."
“Over the past few days and weeks, there has been much talk about what our government’s role should be during this period of economic emergency. That is as it should be – because there is much that government can and must do to help people in need,” said President Obama. “But no matter how much money we invest or how sensibly we design our policies, the change that Americans are looking for will not come from government alone. There is a force for good greater than government. It is an expression of faith, this yearning to give back, this hungering for a purpose larger than our own, that reveals itself not simply in places of worship, but in senior centers and shelters, schools and hospitals, and any place an American decides.”
The White House Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will be a resource for nonprofits and community organizations, both secular and faith based, looking for ways to make a bigger impact in their communities, learn their obligations under the law, cut through red tape, and make the most of what the federal government has to offer.
President Obama appointed Joshua DuBois, a former associate pastor and advisor to the President in his U.S. Senate office and campaign Director of Religious Affairs, to lead this office. “Joshua understands the issues at stake, knows the people involved, and will be able to bring everyone together – from both the secular and faith-based communities, from academia and politics – around our common goals,” said President Obama.
The Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will focus on four key priorities, to be carried out by working closely with the President’s Cabinet Secretaries and each of the eleven agency offices for faith-based and neighborhood partnerships:
The Office’s top priority will be making community groups an integral part of our economic recovery and poverty a burden fewer have to bear when recovery is complete.
It will be one voice among several in the administration that will look at how we support women and children, address teenage pregnancy, and reduce the need for abortion.
The Office will strive to support fathers who stand by their families, which involves working to get young men off the streets and into well-paying jobs, and encouraging responsible fatherhood.
Finally, beyond American shores this Office will work with the National Security Council to foster interfaith dialogue with leaders and scholars around the world.
As the priorities of this Office are carried out, it will be done in a way that upholds the Constitution – by ensuring that both existing programs and new proposals are consistent with American laws and values. The separation of church and state is a principle President Obama supports firmly – not only because it protects our democracy, but also because it protects the plurality of America’s religious and civic life. The Executive Order President Obama will sign today strengthens this by adding a new mechanism for the Executive Director of the Office to work through the White House Counsel to seek the advice of the Attorney General on difficult legal and constitutional issues.
The Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will include a new President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, composed of religious and secular leaders and scholars from different backgrounds. There will be 25 members of the Council, appointed to 1-year terms.
Members of the Council include:
Judith N. Vredenburgh, President and Chief Executive Officer, Big Brothers / Big Sisters of America
Rabbi David N. Saperstein, Director & Counsel, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and noted church/state expert
Dr. Frank S. Page, President emeritus, Southern Baptist Convention
Father Larry J. Snyder, President, Catholic Charities USA
Rev. Otis Moss, Jr., Pastor emeritus, Olivet Institutional Baptist Church
Eboo S. Patel, Founder & Executive Director, Interfaith Youth Corps
Fred Davie, President, Public / Private Ventures, a secular non-profit intermediary
New York, NY
Dr. William J. Shaw, President, National Baptist Convention, USA
Melissa Rogers, Director, Wake Forest School of Divinity Center for Religion and Public Affairs and expert on church/state issues
Pastor Joel C. Hunter, Senior Pastor, Northland, a Church Distributed
Dr. Arturo Chavez, Ph.D., President & CEO, Mexican American Cultural Center
San Antonio, TX
Rev. Jim Wallis, President & Executive Director, Sojourners
Bishop Vashti M. McKenzie, Presiding Bishop, 13th Episcopal District, African Methodist Episcopal Church
Diane Baillargeon, President & CEO, Seedco, a secular national operating intermediary
New York, NY
Richard Stearns, President, World Vision