At a town hall meeting at the University of Maryland this morning, President Obama fielded a question about an issue (in fact, a campaign promise) yet-to-be-resolved—government-funded discrimination based on religion. The question came from our friends at the Secular Coalition for America and the President’s answer left much to be desired. Our friends at the Baptist Joint Committee have a transcript of the Q&A on their blog, Sarah Posner at Religion Dispatches has video of the exchange in her article, and Interfaith Alliance president and State of Belief host Rev. Welton Gaddy’s response to President Obama’s statement is available here.
I imagine that frequent readers of the State of Belief blog and supporters of Interfaith Alliance’s work know that the issue of government-funded discrimination is one of, if not the biggest, lingering issues with the faith-based initiative. The Coalition Against Religious Discrimination (which Interfaith Alliance is a member of) has written to the President and other members of his administration numerous times in the last few years, asking that executive orders be revoked, old guidance be corrected. And still, the government policy remains that even if religious organizations are in part funded by taxpayer dollars, they can be exempt from crucial civil rights laws that exist to ensure people aren’t discriminated against in hiring, because of their religion (or race, gender, disability and so on) and that all taxpayer-funded jobs are open to all taxpayers.
As Rev. Gaddy said in his statement, “President Obama’s comments today, taken as a whole, do not provide any encouragement that progress will be made in this area any time soon.” But, of course, that doesn’t mean we will stop talking with the administration, reminding President Obama of what he said in his infamous Zanesville, OH speech, and pushing for positive changes.