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.
Source: CNN Belief Blog | Dan Gilgoff