White House Faith-Based Council Remains Divided

The President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships appears to be deeply divided over several issues surrounding the “faith-based” initiative.

In a telephone conference call Jan. 11, Council members debated recommendations from a task force that studied issues such as display of religious icons in publicly funded social service programs, creation of separate nonprofit agencies to receive public funds and ways to ensure that government grants are handled in an open and constitutional fashion.

Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn, a member of the task force, pushed for strict rules upholding church-state separation. (See “Perspective”)

Lynn argued that houses of worship that accept faith-based funding should be required to keep the money in a separate account, asserted that social services should be provided in sites free of sectarian signs and symbols and pressed for a broad transparency policy that would make it easier to determine which groups are being funded and how the money is spent.

The Council, which includes many representatives of religious groups that receive public funds, hopes to present a series of recommendations to Obama for reforming the White House faith-based office. The office was first created by President George W. Bush in 2001; Obama has said he wants to keep the office open but change the approach of the faith-based initiative.

The Council is slated to vote on several issues and submit its recommendations to Obama this month.