Nonprofit Newswire | Keeping Faith, Courting Conservatives

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February 4, 2010; Wall Street Journal | Why did President Obama continue the practice of his many predecessors by attending the National Prayer Breakfast organized annually by something called “the Fellowship Foundation?” It doesn’t take a lot of Internet research to find reputable journalists and scholars providing scary detail about the political and religious motivations of this organization: here, here, here, and there are others. The head of this organization, also called “The Family,” has denied rumors that he and his organization support the legislation in Uganda that would punish sexual activity between same-sex partners with long prison sentences or death. But that’s not the problem with the Fellowship.  White House occupants all make the obligatory appearance at the Breakfast. As this Wall Street Journal article suggests, the appearance of President Obama and the First Lady at the National Prayer Breakfast is part of a strategy of courting support from the faith-based community.  Part of that strategy, according to the article, is continuing some of the Bush Administration’s faith-based policies, which Obama supporters hoped the new Administration would delete.  Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State said that Obama is pursuing a “political agenda to win support in these conservative religious communities” by attending the Breakfast.  And in the Huffington Post Lynn said, “from where I’m sitting, the core of Obama’s faith-based initiative looks pretty much identical to the deeply problematic one created by President George W. Bush. A few tweaks on the margins don’t amount to real change…The DOJ, so far, has even refused to overturn a Bush-era memo that gives faith-based charities a sweeping “religious liberty” right to engage in employment bias in all federally funded programs. All this is frustrating because we were promised something better. In a July 2008 Zanesville, Ohio, speech, Obama flatly promised to repeal Bush-era rules that let publicly funded faith-based groups discriminate in hiring on religious grounds. He also vowed to make sure that these groups do not proselytize the folks who come to them for help.”  Like Lynn, we’re disappointed, less by President Obama’s faith-based initiatives (which have lacked anything like President Bush’s Compassion Capital Fund explicitly created to facilitate federal grants for faith-based groups), but by giving credibility to the Fellowship Foundation by allowing them to score the participation of the President in the latest Prayer Breakfast.—Rick Cohen