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. Sum Dude

    Clarifying the church-state relationship is not, and never has been, a duty or responsibility of the Office of the President.

    Where are his advisors? Is everyone intent on giving him bad advice or something? Where's the WH legal counsel?

    The ACLU needs to challenge this mess in court. This religious nonsense is unconstltutional. Period.

    November 17, 2010 at 10:15 pm |
    • Sum Dude

      I guess Pretzel Logic goaded all the weenies into pressing the "report abuse" button. Now the thread has gone "spang".

      Good luck on seeing your posts appear in the correct spot, weenies! *pppbbbb* 😛

      November 17, 2010 at 10:18 pm |
    • David

      ACLU...lol what a ship of fools.

      November 18, 2010 at 1:23 am |
    • Sum Dude

      @David – You must be the "weenie" who kept pressing the button. Am I right?

      So if we take away your civil rights because you're such a tard, that's okay with you, then? Thanks. I hope it happens to you very soon.....

      November 18, 2010 at 1:30 am |
  2. David M

    Lots of people have said there should be no federal funds for religious based organizations performing a social service. The problem is, if some of those organizations don't do it, then it will not get done. And the people needing those services are left with no alternative. Maybe the govt should cover that, but we all know how the govt works. I suspect it's much cheaper to provide money to some of these organizations than for the govt to do it.

    It's not that I think federal money should be given to faith based groups. I don't think they should accept it in the first place. Once you accept federal money, then you have to play by their rules and the govt can tell you what you can and cannot do. If I ran a faith based organization, we would not accept fedeal money.

    It's odd that some of you will argue against federal money being used in this way, but you don't make a peep about the billions being wasted on secular organizations that are allegedly providing a service, but in fact are doing nothing but wasting money.

    November 17, 2010 at 10:02 pm |
    • Frogist

      Well that's a conundrum. Because the second govt decides to overhaul health care or social security, provide services and aid, they get labeled "socialist" and no one wants any part of it. But then when govt money goes out to churches, churches don't want it because it's the govt job to provide aid and services? Sounds like a Catch-22.

      November 18, 2010 at 12:28 pm |
  3. Mark from Middle River

    Umm ...... Did I miss a post ? Did Reality "not" post to this thread. I thought he would be all over this one. Maybe, he read it and just went into a coma.

    Or he is preparing the mother of all responces.

    I gotta say that I dislike Obama a bit less than I did yesterday and maybe that was his point. Maybe that is change of compromising where it appears so many here saw his presidency more as a chance to hurt or get even with others. I belive that what scares more folks here is that by giving assistance to faith based groups then the government is acknowleging that these same groups "are" doing good works in society.

    That is the last thing that some would want to admit or to have such a enity as the federal government confess.

    November 17, 2010 at 9:41 pm |
  4. GirlOutWest

    religious organizations should not receive any federal funds. at all.

    November 17, 2010 at 9:36 pm |
  5. Stephen

    I am a minister for a faith movement that does receive monies from the government. I must say that I am ok with tough rules regarding the proclamation of faith during programs funded by the government. In all truth I feel that my organization should refute all federal funds anyway. However, when it comes to the hiring restrictions that are desired- I find this absolutely wrong. The reasons there is so much money being given to faith organizations now is because the government can't take care of its people. If they are going to depend on churches and other organizations to do their work they must not bend their arms in relation to who they can hire. The churches are bailing the government out here.

    November 17, 2010 at 9:33 pm |
  6. Robert

    I still don't get it? What's changed since the 1980's? I mean I know we had 4 presidents, but it all seems very similar

    November 17, 2010 at 9:21 pm |
  7. Antipope

    this is BS. I am soooo anti obama after this.

    November 17, 2010 at 9:14 pm |
  8. Larry

    This is extremely disturbing and frightening. This office has no place in our government. How can we protect our children from Christianity, when our government is supporting these ignorant groups?

    November 17, 2010 at 9:13 pm |
  9. Iqbal khan

    Cost of War in Iraq & Afghanistan

    November 17, 2010 at 9:06 pm |
  10. tony

    I'd like the job of running the White House Office of Wraith-Based Ectoplasm Partnerships. American Ghosts need more influence in the night to night haunting of the country

    November 17, 2010 at 8:52 pm |
  11. profbam

    The GOP are such hypocrites complaining about Obama abusing the Faith -based initiative office. The faith-based program was started by Bush for the express purpose of corrupting religion. The way they operated the office, a rep would visit a church and explain how to apply for grants. The following week a GOP fund raiser would show up. What is your definition of "shake down?"

    The large religious groups set up separate incorporated organizations (Luthern Charities, Catholic Charities, etc.) in order to keep that work and the employees separate from their religious activities. A thin wall but at least a wall of separation. The GOP wanted direct access and no wall.

    The office should be disbanded totally and that will obviate these problems.

    November 17, 2010 at 8:49 pm |
  12. someoneelse

    A Christian organization can refuse to hire me based on religion but I can't refuse to hire them (as athiests are, on average, much smarter, and yes that has been statistcally proven).

    November 17, 2010 at 8:38 pm |
    • DanW

      That is inaccurate. Most intelligent people in modern America and Europe are afraid to describe themselves as believers, for fear they'll be kicked out of the club. A hundred years ago this was not true. Don't confuse what is fashionable for what is truly measurable.

      November 17, 2010 at 9:27 pm |
    • DarthWoo

      Right DanW, because random empirical surveys are the secret atheist tool to out silly believers in the eyes of their peers. I will grant, however, that it is more likely that a higher level of intelligence and education opens people to the rejection of the absurdity of the supernatural aspects of religion, rather than the reverse of atheism making someone suddenly more intelligent. Sadly, it is actually more often the case that atheists have to feign religiosity in order to participate in public office. I can only see that getting worse as organizations like the Tea Party create an atmosphere of disdain for science and education.

      November 17, 2010 at 10:09 pm |
    • Frogist

      @DanW: I think you're sort of missing the point. Secular business are told they must hire regardless of religious persuasion, so those scientists cannot legally decide not to hire someone based on whether they are religious or not. But religious orgs currently have that privilege of hiring/firing whomever their biases direct them to do. It's hardly the same.

      November 18, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
  13. trixen

    I think we need to start taxing these churches. They wanna tell people how to vote?! F*** 'em. They ought to have to pay their way like everyone else.

    November 17, 2010 at 8:31 pm |
    • David

      Any group can tell (though not force) anyone how to vote, regardless of taxation. Idiot.

      November 18, 2010 at 1:22 am |
    • Sum Dude

      @David – Ehhh! Wrong again! The Supreme Court ruled otherwise, you silly little man.

      November 18, 2010 at 1:33 am |
  14. Jerry

    We, as Americans, are guaranteed not only freedom OF religion but, also, freedom FROM religion. Obammy shoulda dissolved one of the few mistakes made by George W. Bush.

    Keep your religious beliefs (insanities and/or delusions, all!) to yourselves and out of our secular government!

    November 17, 2010 at 8:23 pm |
  15. TiredofYouall

    I have attended Baptist churches in north Texas for years and I have never heard someone advocate killing the president or gays or anyone else for that matter. As many services as I have attentded it would seem the odds would eventually catch up to me and I would hear one of these so called anti obama, anti gay etc sermons. If you do attend a church like that, maybe you should find a new one eh?

    November 17, 2010 at 8:10 pm |
    • Honor480

      I agree with you. I was raised as a Baptist in North Carolina, and I have never heard a "political" sermon, and you shouldn't. Church is supposed to be a place of worship, not politics. The "churches" that bring politics into it are incorrect and drag down all the other places of worship. People for some reason lose the ability to distinguish things when it comes to religion. I've heard plenty of comments on here about all Christians or religious people being crazy. Last time I checked I'm still sane. weird.

      November 18, 2010 at 3:03 am |
  16. TiredofYouall

    Yea, most of the liberals are out in force whinnig over this. Funny, you will take money for organizations that are for particular races, genders etc but if religion is included then put on the brakes! Every time I see a large natural disaster one of the first things I see are faith based groups out providing hot food and shelter and I can guarantee you that many who are accepting what is offered are greatful. Faith based groups are more likely to be on the scene of a disaster much fast than state and federal agencies. I know that many of you have no time to hear anything positive about religious people but the fact is religious people give and give to people they have never met and they do so with no strings attached. Yea, there are a few who basically make you do or say something to get your food, etc. But that is the rare minority. Fact is, religion didnt start the Viet Nam war, WW2, WW1, Spanish/American, Civil War, Revolutionary War and I could go on for centuries. But what they did start were organizations to help those who need it. Stop your hate and open your eyes to honest attempts to help a person, a home, a community. For every 100 of you who may read this I would guess maybe 5 of you will try it....pity.

    November 17, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
    • Observer

      Of course many churches do welfare work and help out in times of need. No one said they didn't. They not only help some people, but they hurt some people. The people of Haiti went through a horrendous earthquake and they certainly didn't need someone with the IQ of a Pat Robertson claiming God did it for revenge. Same story for moronic comments about 9/11 being for revenge and these comments were from some of the VERY TOP religious leaders in America.

      November 17, 2010 at 8:34 pm |
    • Frogist

      @TiredofYouall: You assume it's only liberals or non-religious who are against this, and you would be wrong. Americans United For Separation of Church and State is comprised of religious and non-religious members from each party, both who oppose the "faith-based" int!tiatives and this extended funding of religious organizations by the govt. Religious leaders of all kinds have said they are also against this because they believe it would dilute their message when the govt places restrictions about how they use their organizations. You wail against those who recognize the importance of keeping religion and govt separate because you think they are all non-believer liberals when in truth people of all walks support the separation of church and state. Your short-sightedness is not helping your argument.

      November 18, 2010 at 12:10 pm |
  17. QPhunk

    And people think he's a Socialist Muslim?! Sounds to me like he's a Republicrat.

    November 17, 2010 at 8:01 pm |
  18. a slozomby

    tax exempt status wasnt enough of a kickback. now we're giving them more money?

    November 17, 2010 at 8:01 pm |
  19. MediaVirus

    "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."

    Didn't Bush create the office to win political support from religious leaders?????? And he was too dumb to think that when a democrat got in power he would use it for his own political gain and not the republicans??????? Bush really was a dumb human being. That's why you don't create these types of government agencies.....they can also be used by your opponents, you freakin' idiots!

    November 17, 2010 at 7:29 pm |
    • maine liberal

      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.

      November 18, 2010 at 2:06 pm |
  20. Terry W. Brookman

    Reaffirm the faith in the almighty dollar and to adhere to the golden rule, he who has the gold rules!

    November 17, 2010 at 7:27 pm |
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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.