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. eb77

    i don't know how to say this...here goes, humans lack or want to really know and love God, and that is the singular reason we find our world the way it is, wake up, please, truly see the beauty in this world. -Peace

    November 18, 2010 at 3:35 am |
  2. Tschrny Wolf


    TO Q; excuse me, but I did not read anything about mandatory organ donation. It does make sense that the functioning organs of dying patients serve usefully, instead of rottening underground, you yourself may one day need a transplant to save your life!

    November 18, 2010 at 3:11 am |
    • Q

      Sorry, I'd not noticed your comment earlier. No question, organ donation is noble and my driver's license as well as my "living will" indicates I'm a donor. My point in referencing "mandatory organ donation" was to illustrate what most people believe to be a limitation of government in dictating the application of our bodies. This was in response to a post by "David". (apparently there are some issues with where "reply" comments showed up in the thread.

      November 19, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
  3. Sum Dude

    In the Executive Order, under Section 2 (c) No organization should be discriminated against on the basis of religion or religious belief in the administration or distribution of Federal financial assistance under social service programs.

    This is nothing but a blatant end-run around the First Amendment. The rest of the order merely builds upon this oblique attack upon the U.S. Constltution and attempts to obscure the real illegality of the effects of this order by trying to equate the money with the "help" as if the organizations receiving it were not religious organizations.

    Complete and utter rubbish. A disgusting and underhanded attack by the religious organizations involved in setting this up.
    And when did this happen? Probably back a few weeks when Obama had that "meeting" with religious big-wigs.
    Ever since that day, the Obama Administration has done a large number of pretty nasty things.

    I think he is not worried about re-election any more, for he is not acting like someone trying to preserve the Constltution.
    The President is the Executive Officer of the Constltution. That does not give any authority to violate it without extremely good cause, which he cannot have in this case.

    November 18, 2010 at 1:05 am |
  4. Tw

    If the first amendment covers a pedophile's right to publish how-to guides, then it should cover this pastor's statement. You Libs are all about Free Speech until someone speaks against you. lol I swear... I read through all your comments tonight and you guys make no common sense whatsoever. Seriously... Look at your point: Liberal Blogger: "I am so disappointed in obama that I may not vote for him because he is extending a program that helps people in communities and neighborhoods. If these people have to go to a Church to get this money and walk by Religious Symbols on their way, then screw it! People should only ask for help at a Government Office! I have no problem that my tax dollars fund p)rn in the guise of art. But I'll be Damned if it goes to help a Christian!" Seriously......? Think. Please. And relax.

    November 18, 2010 at 12:32 am |
    • Sum Dude

      What blogger said that? I saw nothing like that in this thread.....?

      November 18, 2010 at 12:46 am |
    • Frogist

      @Sum Dude: tw isn't actually responding to anyone or making sense in his posts. Maybe we should just assume he's talking to his god... Or speaking in tongues. Heck maybe he's possessed or something. I vote we just leave him alone till he's done with it.

      November 18, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
    • Sum Dude

      @Frogist – Sounds good to me. Delusional rants are certainly par for the course in this blog....!

      November 18, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
  5. Claire M.

    This is wrong on so many levels. Taxpayer money should not go to religious organizations, period. The Christians don't realize that this also assists other religions to expand and practice unfair hiring. There is no management of these funds, and how can they really believe that alternatives will exist for those who don't desire to be proselytized to? Churches are already too powerful, and they have inserted themselves in all areas of government, although they are are supposed to lose their tax-exempt funding for doing so. Theocracy seems inevitable at this rate. Epic fail, Pres. Obama. You were elected to END this egregious situation, not make it worse.

    November 18, 2010 at 12:29 am |
  6. Tw

    You have ALL missed the point, here. Obama has just recently come to the conclusion that he has only two more years in his 'redistribution of wealth' plan. They are having to go into high gear if they are going to get it done. So he had to make a tough call and hire the Churches to help him. So, Liberals, stop your whining! He's still on your side. I mean, let's be honest... you don't really care who the money goes to as long as it goes to someone who has their hand out, right? And please stop and THINK... the only reason he is letting them keep the clause about hiring within their own religion is so that one of you fine, upstanding Liberals can go in dressed as Beelzebub himself and be refused a position, thereby denying your ...(wait for it....) Civil Rights and giving you the right to sue! See....? Just chill. He's still your man.

    November 18, 2010 at 12:17 am |
    • Sum Dude


      Too bad all this stuff just goes right over your head, Tw. You might find life more meaningful if you seek the truth honestly.

      November 18, 2010 at 1:25 am |
  7. Chuck

    Only in America does the electorate base its decisions on the brand of religious delusion the candidates prefer and only in America do the candidates feel obliged to pick a flavour.

    November 18, 2010 at 12:16 am |
  8. Q

    Strict separation is the only viable option to ensure the State doesn't impose upon religious liberty and to ensure majority faith positions aren't promoted/supported at the expense of minority faith positions via the public trough. Here, we're seeing religious organizations willing to accept restrictions on religious expression promoted/supported over those which refuse such restrictions. That the office of faith-based and community partnerships used its position to make a direct appeal for Health Care support should be troubling to everyone given the conflict of interest in the office coordinating access to public funds. That conservatives suddenly find this upsetting is truly hypocritical given they sought this entanglement to begin with.

    November 18, 2010 at 12:12 am |
  9. Stephen

    "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."

    And no American should be denied a job because of religious beliefs as these groups are trying to do. It is "faith-based" What part of that do they not get.The work is done because of their faith not for profit. If you don't want the services then don't take them, the government is to serve all the people not just a few. Deal with it.

    November 18, 2010 at 12:10 am |
    • Sum Dude

      If you get paid for your "faith-based" work, then, truly, you have had your reward. Jesus will not reward you in Heaven.

      If you want to do "faith-based" work for a "faith-based" organization, don't go asking for gov't money for your organization. Volunteer and work for free. Put your hypocrisy behind you and actually give your time instead of selling it for money.
      No gov't money needed.
      And the "tax-free" status of "religious" organizations needs to END NOW, as it amounts to a gov't subsidy of that organization.
      If you have a "spiritual faith" then you won't be needing that money, will you?

      November 18, 2010 at 12:42 am |
  10. Smokey

    The phrase "separation of church and state" was never intended to mean and should not be construed as meaning that religious belief must be driven out of public life in its entirety. Our society today is rife with godless secularism which the founders of America, as religious men who knew the value of public faith to be an essential part of a decent society, would have never condoned. That school of thought which says that religion in a free society must be merely a private pursuit and can have no bearing on governance or the public life of men and women is wrong, and seeks the wholesale destruction of faith and, consequentially, our very way of life.

    George Washington said: "Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.It is substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who, that is a sincere friend to it, can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?"

    The aggressive secularism that demands we keep our religious values strictly to the church and home and deny or God should we ever step into public life is the most deadly threat to western society today. God turns His favour and His face from the unrighteous. By the power of faith the atheist Soviet Union was laid low, and should we follow in that horrible path the same fate will befall us. Who has eyes, let him see: it is happening even as we speak. As a people we must turn back to God, or be destroyed.

    November 18, 2010 at 12:10 am |
    • Sum Dude

      Use those eyeballs and check this out:

      The Soviet Union collapsed from within for many reasons. One of the biggest was financial disaster. They could not keep up with our massive military spending. We outspent them while their economy crumbled from such things as oil prices and their war in Afghanistan.

      You said, "By the power of faith the atheist Soviet Union was laid low, and should we follow in that horrible path the same fate will befall us."

      In all the different analysis on the fall of the Soviet Union that I have read, NONE OF THEM even MENTION religion, atheists, or anything of the sort.

      You are making a claim without any proof or even logic. There is more proof that other things actually caused the downfall of the USSR, not their "godlessness" or anyone's "faith".

      But of course you will flatly deny the military truth, the political truth, the economic truth, and the actions of the Russian people themselves in an effort to remain blind and deaf to the truth.

      You can accomplish the same thing by closing your eyes and covering your ears while singing hymns at the top of your voice. Kind of like that guy who sings hymns when he is being prosecuted in court.

      November 18, 2010 at 12:33 am |
    • Q

      Turn back to God all you want, vote on your religious convictions and stand on a soap box out front of the White House proclaiming your position if you choose. This is the individual religious liberty protected by both the free speech and free expression clauses of the first amendment (as is my freedom to point and laugh). Necessarily accompanying this individual liberty comes the prohibition against State powers and resources being employed to spread a religious message (via the establishment clause), be it yours, mine or anyone else's. What so many seem to miss is that separation of church and state is there to protect your individual religious liberty from the undue influence of the State when it happens to be controlled by a majority whose religious perspective is contrary to your own. Separation of church and state protects against undue influence originating from either side of the wall.

      November 18, 2010 at 12:37 am |
    • Smokey

      @Some Dude: the great hubris and lack of humility of the Soviet system was a byproduct of their lack of belief in a higher power than human reason. Their demoralized people could not turn to their God and pray when times got difficult, they could only turn to the flawed men who led them and failed. The economic problems caused by a poorly structured society were exacerbated when the Brezhnev government decided to spend billions invading Afghanistan. They were, of course, defeated by holy warriors fighting for their faith, their God, and their land. America played a major part: Christian congressmen who were impressed with the devout mujahedeen insisted on military support against the atheist Soviets. Reagen's steadfast belief that global communism was evil and should not be accommodated, and his insistence that religious morality have a place in our society and in our public policy, had an impact. Today it is our own secular society that is the evil empire seeking to wipe religion from the earth, and we see the results in the success of our wars against Islam (or lack thereof).

      November 18, 2010 at 12:58 am |
    • Observer

      We just had a president who talked to God all the time. God apparently wasn't impressed enough to warn him about the worst attack ever on our soil, or that he was sending thousands of Americans to die in a nation that had nothing to do with 9/11. We also had one of the worst hurricanes on record. The communication sure didn't do any good.

      November 18, 2010 at 1:08 am |
    • Sum Dude


      You think Atheism is a political system? A method of governing? LOL You really think their "hubris" was atheist in character?
      ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!
      It was essentially a dictatorship filled with despots who ruled with fear and indoctrination. They had more in common with religion-based governments than anything else!
      Their gov't hierarchy was almost a mirror image of the VATICAN for cryin' out loud! And you think atheism had anything to do with the people fighting back against their oppressors? LOL

      You slay me, Smokey. You are really a silly nut. Have you done ANY reading at all on the Soviet Union???

      November 18, 2010 at 1:21 am |
    • Observer

      Atheism had nothing to do with the failure of the U.S.S.R. Adolph Hitler was raised as a Catholic and believed in God and he turned out to be a failure after being successful for a while, too.

      There can't be a much more humorous image than that of Ronald Reagan giving his "tear down the wall" speech if Nikita Khruschev was still in command at the time.

      November 18, 2010 at 1:31 am |
    • Frogist

      @Smokey: So which God would our govt be run by? Vishnu? Thor? Jehovah? If you want govt influenced by religion, then you either have to combine all religions equally, or choose one religion to rule them all. Can you truly have religious freedom of our very diverse population in that scenario? Would you be ok if we had a Mormon govt? Or a Pagan one? Probably not. Seems to me you would only want religion in your govt, if it's your religion. Otherwise, consider the case of Aisa Bibi. Her country has chosen to incorporate religious influence over her govt, but it's not her religion. It didn't work out so well for her. Is that what you are advocating?

      November 18, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
    • Sum Dude


      Maybe Smokey is like Sauron: "One religion to bring them all and in the darkness bind them."

      November 18, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Sum Dude:
      So which one are you? Gandalf the Grey? or White? 😉
      I definitely want to be Sam. 🙂

      November 18, 2010 at 2:54 pm |
    • Sum Dude

      There are too many to choose from, sorry.
      But being Gandalf would be fun, I must admit.
      I would put an enchantment of surpassing excellence on David Johnson's beer. 😛

      November 18, 2010 at 3:36 pm |
  11. AGN

    "And I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together." ~James Madison

    November 18, 2010 at 12:03 am |
  12. AGN

    We can live without religion and meditation, but we cannot survive without human affection. ~Dalai Lama

    November 17, 2010 at 11:55 pm |
  13. MicheleG

    On the White House web site:


    November 17, 2010 at 11:12 pm |
  14. hurf durf

    I live in Canada. The government has absolutely nothing to do with my church. The only thing they do is give small tax breaks for any charitable donations made through the church. The church is free to preach what it wants. Those who desire to hear these things go to church, those who don't, do not go. It's pretty simple.

    November 17, 2010 at 11:11 pm |
    • Honor480

      You would think wouldn't you? I love my country but I swear it doesn't believe in ever doing anything the easy way.

      November 18, 2010 at 3:14 am |
  15. Mark from Middle River

    " I think distancing yourself from Christians who are for killing is ignoring an important segment of your community that should instead be exposed"

    While I do agree a bit with your statement at the same time the language and overall concept I am having an issue with. The problem is that the good that is done by people of faith is always going to be what is important to them. No group will ever say then negative minority or aspect of a group is what is important. To those outside of the group or have issues with group, of cource the negative is what draws their focus.

    I will give you this, as an African American I am aware of the issues within my community and I do what I can to make sure I, myself am on the right path. I do not believe that I need to go confessing or baring my soul for those outside of the african American about the negative actions by another. If you have a issue with African american negative actions then my advice would be to confront the one doing it and let those chips fall where they may.

    I think the actions of distancing themselves is or might be seen as good responce. Maybe because you are looking from the outside. Coming from someone inside of the group carries more weight than possibly you can imagine. It is someone saying that "we are ashamed of you and that your actions are not of us". To people who view the group as leaning with them these are harsh words.

    You may need to look upon these types of statements as more than acknowledging the negative behavior but going even further by isloating the person so that he or she knows that the group does not stand with them but that they stand alone.

    November 17, 2010 at 11:05 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Mark: I understand that isolating the negative factors in one's group would be more effective coming from within the group. But when people say, "Oh he's not really christian" what they are really saying is "Oh he's not a real Christian like me." And that statement is not as a means to isolate the negative, but to dismiss it. That only serves to make oneself feel superior without really acknowledging the faults of one's position. You need not focus on the negative, but you must acknowledge it's existence. Because I think it is truly our reluctance to view the negative within ourselves or our group that is holding us back from peaceful coexistence. If everyone from the outside sees only negative, and those on the inside see only positive, we can never really grasp where the other stands. Certainly others from the outside will look at your faults first. Acknowledging those faults not only shows you are fully aware of the negatives, but also shows you understand their concerns, and has the added benefit of deflating their argument. Besides, it is not completely honest to dismiss the negatives as outside the group, when those who practice the negative aspects use the same name.

      November 18, 2010 at 12:57 pm |
  16. MicheleG


    November 17, 2010 at 10:57 pm |
  17. Doubtingreader

    Consider that Obama did this so that the Muslims can get in on the take also!

    November 17, 2010 at 10:55 pm |
  18. Matthew

    All he's doing is making it easier for Islamics to do thier dirty work without the added complications of having to actually DO something.

    November 17, 2010 at 10:47 pm |
    • Observer

      At least Obama is going after the people who aided in the 9/11 attack, unlike Bush who said he wasn't concerned about bin Laden.

      November 17, 2010 at 10:56 pm |
    • AGN

      You can not generalize it by saying Islamic, you have to say extremist did the attacks. Would you say the same thing it it were Christians which are no better believe me.

      November 17, 2010 at 11:48 pm |
  19. blondief

    Hussein Obama can not make a tough decision and the world knows. He only knows how to tax, spend, and hide.

    November 17, 2010 at 10:36 pm |
  20. JT

    Remember GWB had that sodomite Ted Haggard in his weekly White House prayer service. The most powerful man on Earth should not be taking orders from some invisible, nonexistent spirit.

    November 17, 2010 at 10:16 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.