When I read the headline “Religious leaders worry that Obama’s faith council is for show” in The Washington Post this morning, I imagined the story might have something to do with how concerned people are that the faith council may not be able to convince Josh DuBois to rein in the activities of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships, an office with both a title and an agenda tweaked only slightly from the disastrous Bush Administration office of similar name.
Upon reading the full text, however, I discovered that the article’s focus was, instead, on those who think the faith-based partnership isn’t doing enough to entwine our domestic agenda and our country’s religious organizations.
Apparently, “critics” are concerned about the fact that the council hasn’t been allowed to weigh in on issues like religious hiring and abortion. They’d really like the council to be able to tackle those, because they want religious organizations that receive federal funding to be able to turn away job applicants on the basis of their religious beliefs, and because they want to influence the president’s reproductive health agenda with their religious views on abortion.
That’s all well and good, but the article all but skipped over the other half of the “critics,” whose concern stems from a very different point of view.
Faith plays a very important role in our country and is a large part of the diversity that makes us so unique, but it often plays a disproportionate role in public debate. People of faith have every right to speak out on the issues that are important to them, but a line is crossed when we put religious concerns about political issues before all else.
It may be impolitic to say so, but my concern with the role of faith in the Obama Administration is not whether or not faith leaders are being listened to. It’s the fact that the faith-based office is still operating under the rules of the Bush Administration, which are deeply flawed and of questionable constitutionality. We all need to keep in mind that, since the government accepts taxes from and represents every person in the country, whatever their beliefs, it is not free to create policies or pass laws that favor any one, or several, belief system or systems. That would be the establishment of religion, prohibited by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Which, guess what?, exists to protect religion as much as it does the government.