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November 17th, 2010
01:42 PM ET

Obama signs order clarifying church-state relationship

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN

President Barack Obama signed an executive order Wednesday clarifying the ground rules for religious groups partnering with the federal government through the White House's controversial faith office.

The order says that religious organizations receiving federal funds must conduct explicitly religious activities in a time and place that are different from when and where they do government-financed work.

But the order also states that faith-based organizations receiving federal dollars may use their facilities to provide government-backed social services, even if those facilities include religious art, icons, scriptures and other religious symbols.

A religious group receiving federal money may also keep religious language in its name, select board members on a religious basis, and include religious references in its mission statements and other documents, the executive order says.

The White House framed the order as an attempt to separate religion from politics, saying in a news release that "decisions about financial awards must be free from political interference or even the appearance of such interference."

But a group that advocates strict church-state separation said the order did not go nearly far enough in that regard.

"I'm disappointed," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. "This leaves much of George W. Bush's faith-based initiative in place. That's not the change many Americans hoped for when President Obama took office."

"I am particularly frustrated that President Obama still has done nothing to ban hiring bias by publicly funded religious charities," Lynn said in a statement. "That's the 800-pound gorilla in the room. No American should be denied a government-funded job because he or she holds the 'wrong' views about religion."

At the same time, Americans United applauded the order for requiring federal agencies to provide alternatives for people who do not want to receive social services at religious charities and praised a new requirement that faith groups receiving federal money be listed on government websites.

The White House faith office was launched by President George W. Bush in 2001 and was retained by Obama, to the disappointment of some church-state separation advocates. Obama tweaked the name of the office, calling it the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

While the Bush office was aimed mostly at helping to "level the playing field" for faith-based and nonprofit groups applying for federal money to tackle problems like poverty and substance abuse, Obama's faith office has focused on non-financial relationships with faith and nonprofit groups.

The office has come under fire from Bush administration officials, who say the White House is abusing it for political gain.

Responding to charges from those officials that a conference call Obama hosted with religious leaders on the new health care law crossed the line into political outreach, the White House said last month that "there could hardly be a more appropriate audience" for such a call.

"When congregants fall ill, faith communities come together to support their brothers and sisters in need," Joshua DuBois, executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, wrote on the White House blog.

The White House response came after former Bush aides publicly criticized the conference call, saying it was an example of Obama abusing the office to win political support from religious leaders.

"According to the White House website, the faith-based office exists 'to more effectively serve Americans in need,'" Jim Towey, who directed Bush's faith office, wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed in September. "I guess that now means Americans in need of Democratic talking points on health care."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Barack Obama • Church and state • Politics

soundoff (257 Responses)
  1. panasonic bread maker

    Tremendous things here. I'm very happy to peer your post. Thanks a lot and I'm having a look ahead to contact you. Will you kindly drop me a mail?

    April 1, 2013 at 5:03 am |
  2. julia Jaworski

    Given the fact he produced an "Order" tells me he thinks goverment is over the church. He needs to go home and pray harder. The church of GOD does not answer to any government.

    December 1, 2010 at 7:13 pm |
  3. Jo Ann Shepherd

    Time will tell if this is clearing the way to give federal funding to the mosque at ground zero, which should never happen.

    November 23, 2010 at 11:33 am |
  4. Muneef

    Actually this one that i want to post it is funny

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwOrxo1CM4w&w=640&h=390]

    November 18, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
  5. Frogist

    Regarding thread about violent speech against the President from the Church: One thing I have to say though is talk from republican (and overwhelmingly christian candidates) was all about "second amendment remedies" to "take back Washington" and that could be interpreted as a veiled threat to Mr Obama. I know every time I heard that kind of talk, attempts on the President's life certainly crossed my mind. That was the imagery I think they were going for. Pastor Stephen Broden from Texas certainly made it clear that he was all for violent overthrow of the govt. And you can't get that without removing the leader of our govt.

    November 18, 2010 at 3:21 pm |
  6. Muneef

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwOrxo1CM4w&w=640&h=390]

    November 18, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
  7. maine liberal

    @ those blaming Obama ...

    As he promised during the campaign, President Bush launched his "faith-based" initiative on Monday by establishing a White House office to assist and encourage faith-based organizations is seeking federal funds to combat problems like drug addiction and homelessness.

    In a first executive order, Bush created the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. University of Pennsylvania political science professor John Dilulio was named as the head of the new office.

    This bought bush in 2000 the born again vote

    November 18, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
  8. maine liberal

    @ those posters blaming Obama

    As he promised during the campaign, President Bush launched his "faith-based" initiative on Monday by establishing a White House office to assist and encourage faith-based organizations is seeking federal funds to combat problems like drug addiction and homelessness.

    In a first executive order, Bush created the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. University of Pennsylvania political science professor John Dilulio was named as the head of the new office.

    This was to buy the

    November 18, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
  9. MollyBee

    Rewrite the tax laws so that very wealthy churches are paying back into the economy and small churches get a by.

    November 18, 2010 at 7:58 am |
    • adams

      this is an interesting idea. i hear all this talk about how churches are a huge money maker- but i havent found that to be true at all. i know a lot of people in ministry who have a very hard time making ends meet, which contributes even more to the stress of the job. i think the people who are so upset about the big churches (and im certainly no fan of them) are focusing on the extreme examples.

      November 18, 2010 at 11:51 am |
  10. W.G.

    I think it´s kind of a stupid rule . If your a faith based Org . why should it be wrong to
    Preach ?

    November 18, 2010 at 6:08 am |
    • DarthWoo

      There's nothing wrong with a faith based organization preaching. However, as per this order, faith based organizations are free to still take federal funding, which equates to taxpayer money, and still discriminate as they see fit in their hiring practices, even if the positions they are filling to not inherently require belief in the religion under whose banner the organization operates. Though the order does also require that the organizations separate their government financed works from their explicitly religious activities, which some may see as a plus, this is actually the kind of government intrusion into religion that will inevitably arise as a result of any federal funding of a faith based organization, as had been argued against in centuries prior. It is better to just end the funding altogether and allow the organizations to thrive or die on the donations of their own clergy instead. The government could be fully capable of maintaining a secular agency that fulfills similar functions if only they would get their heads out of their collective rears.

      November 18, 2010 at 11:47 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.