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WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama announced today that he is taking the unprecedented and troubling step of forming a federal advisory committee to be made up mostly of religious leaders. Also of great concern, President Obama will increase federal funds going to religious organizations without first changing the Bush-era rules allowing federally-funded religious organizations to apply religious hiring tests to employees.
"President Obama launched his faith-based initiative today by heading into uncharted and dangerous waters," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "What we are seeing today is significant - a president giving his favored clergy a governmental stamp of approval. There is no historical precedent for presidential meddling in religion – or religious leaders meddling in federal policy – through a formal government advisory committee made up mostly of the president's chosen religious leaders."
Today's announcement included the appointment of 25 members of a government advisory committee that will be dominated by religious leaders. The mission of the government committee will be to advise the president and the White House faith-based office on how to distribute federal dollars, and also advise on a range of other issues such as AIDS and women's reproductive health care. Although former President George W. Bush gave prominence to his faith-based initiative and informally consulted with individual religious leaders, even he never formed a government advisory committee made up primarily of clergy.
Although the president restated today his earlier campaign commitment to end the discriminatory hiring practices of government-funded religious groups that President Bush allowed, he deferred changing the rules. As a result, potentially hundreds of billions of dollars of new federal spending in the economic stimulus package now before the Senate could be distributed under the existing rules that allow discrimination in hiring in federally-funded programs.
"President Obama has put the cart before the horse," said Christopher Anders, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel. "He is expanding the Bush administration's faith-based initiative without putting the most important safeguards in place. The president has created a more powerful office with a greater ability to shovel federal taxpayer dollars to religious groups, but civil rights protections are being deferred for later study and decisions. With the president likely to soon have additional hundreds of billions of economic stimulus dollars at his disposal, he should have abolished the discriminatory rules of his predecessor before greasing the way for more federal funds going to religious groups."
To read the Obama Administration's Executive Order, go to: