Washington Markup

White House Should Focus on the Constitution, Not the Bible

By Dena Sher, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 2:41pm

Last week, it was reported that the president of the American Bible Society is meeting with Joshua DuBois, the head of the President's Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, "to begin a dialogue on the importance of the Bible in the founding of the country." The American Bible Society president said, "It's impossible to separate the formation of our democratic republic from the foundation of Scripture." As we know, however, our Constitution is not based on biblical principles.

The White House faith-based office is supposed to coordinate the Obama administration's work with faith-based and community programs and ensure that government programs and practices do not violate the law or the Constitution. Meeting with folks who make spurious claims about American history, however, seem clearly outside the scope of the faith-based office's work.

At least two things come immediately to mind that clearly fall within the scope of the office's work and are critical to upholding our values, our laws, and the Constitution — yet remain undone.

(1) A report on how to implement constitutionally required protections for people who use taxpayer-funded social services. As part of his job, DuBois heads a group of government officials that was supposed to have issued a report over a year ago (which is supposed to implement an advisory council report that was issued more than two years ago). Once in place, these protections would help ensure that no one is be forced to go to a religious homeless shelter or required to attend a worship service prior to getting a meal at a soup kitchen or taking part in a job training program.

It's clear that these changes can't come soon enough: A recent news article reported that one pastor has used a government grant "to host a monthly prayer breakfast for people in his community" where he can "pray with them and then provide them with resources."

(2) Guidance on a review process DuBois directs. DuBois leads a "case-by-case" review process to determine whether faith-based organizations can discriminate when hiring for taxpayer-funded jobs. The process was put in place in 2009 by the Obama administration instead of fulfilling a campaign promise to restore anti-discrimination protections and end policies established by the George W. Bush administration that allow the federal government to subsidize employment discrimination on the basis of religion. Three years later, we still haven't been able to learn any details about the process. So, in December, the ACLU and others sent letters to figure out how one asks for a review; what standards are used in the review; and if there's even a review process in place. Needless to say, we're still waiting for a response.

No government official should get wrapped up in the promotion of false claims about history — which are used to advance one religion over another. With an alarming statement he made in July, DuBois showed a dangerous indifference to the Constitution. Yet his job is to pay attention to the Constitution — indeed, to uphold and defend it. We hope this is not another unfortunate example of his indifference to the Constitution.

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