May 14, 2011; Source: OpEd News | After President Obama gave a congratulatory shout-out to Josh DuBois, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, a Georgetown University religion professor, Jacques Berlinerblau, wondered out loud in the Washington Post, “what exactly that office is doing.” He complained, as we have here, here, and here, that the office generates lots of nice statements about the “virtues of faith-based provision of social services to people in need,” but sidesteps most of the controversies about the separation of church and state, issues that prompted lots of criticisms of President Bush’s faith-based office – and that candidate Obama criticized on the campaign trail in 2008.

As this article, originally published in Conscience magazine by Catholics for Choice, noted, “Over the two-year life of Obama's OFBNP, however, the most controversial aspects of the Bush initiative have remained in place.” According to the article, Obama has not followed through on the commitment he made in July 2008 on the campaign trail that “he would rid the OFBNP of two of its most pressing constitutional problems –allowing faith-based organizations receiving federal dollars to discriminate in hiring, and allowing federal money to be dispersed directly into houses of worship.”

At most, the president has said that charges of discrimination by federally funded faith-based groups would be reviewed by the Department of Justice on a case-by-case basis, but DOJ activity has been invisible. Rob Boston, a spokesperson for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said that he didn’t think there was anything happening at DOJ on enforcement, suggesting, "It's the equivalent of kids asking to go to Disney World and the parents saying, 'We'll see.'"

Apparently White House operatives even told the members of the OFBNP advisory council “specifically . . . not to deal with the issue of co-religionist hiring,” according to Harry Knox, formerly head of religious outreach for the Human Rights Campaign. The advisory committee made other program recommendations to the White House, but the White House hasn’t responded to the recommendations. DuBois, a young political campaign operative before being appointed to head the office, said that two White House blog posts were the only answers to the advisory committee’s report: One post was on how faith-based groups could better access government programs, and the other described meetings to get more people in faith communities to talk about the topics in the advisory committee’s recommendations.

This article outlines how little is being done to clarify these issues so that the federal funds flowing to faith-based organizations are used appropriately. The answers that DuBois gives in the article are weak and seem vague. After more than two years of the Obama Administration already by the boards, the clarification of these issues should have been finished long ago.—Rick Cohen