February 5th, 2009
09:12 AM ET
14 years ago

Obama overhauls faith-based agency

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/02/05/art.getty.obama.jpg caption="President Obama will sign an executive order that will strengthen the constitutional and legal grounding of the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives."]WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Barack Obama will make changes Thursday to President Bush's controversial Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, partly to ensure religious groups that receive government money do not discriminate in hiring, administration officials said.

Obama will sign an executive order that will strengthen the constitutional and legal grounding of the Office, two senior administration officials told CNN.

Critics of the agency, which steers government money to religious charities that perform social services, say that under the Bush Administration faith groups were allowed to take religion into account when hiring.

On contentious issues like hiring, Obama found that one of the problems with the previous Initiative was that tough questions were decided without appropriate consideration, data, and input from different sides, the officials said. There were ideological decisions, instead of decisions based in fact, they added.

Obama officials say his executive order will make religious groups demonstrate to the government that their hiring is legal and non-discriminatory.

"We think this is a key step forward. It doesn't resolve all issues at the outset, but it does provide a mechanism to address difficult legal issues moving forward," they said.

The president is naming Josh DuBois, who ran religious outreach during Obama's campaign, to run the revamped Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

He will also create a new advisory council, whose 25 members will include Rabbi David Saperstein, head of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judiasm; Judith Vredenburgh,the CEO of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America; Bishop Vashti McKenzie, the first female bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; the Rev. Joel Hunter, the senior pastor of Northland Church, a megachurch in Orlando, Florida, and the Rev. Frank Page, a past president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Office of Faith-Based Intiatives is a programming and policy arm of the federal government. It is the primary mechanism for federal agencies to connect with local neighborhood and faith-based groups to deliver social services. Centers within executive agencies run programs like job training for low-income individuals at the Department of Labor; ex-offender re-entry at the Department of Justice and international HIV/AIDS efforts at USAID.

–CNN Correspondents Suzanne Malveaux and Jessica Yellin contributed to
this report.

Filed under: Candidate Barack Obama
soundoff (54 Responses)
  1. Change

    He is changing everything, you better believe it (?)

    February 5, 2009 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  2. Jackie in Dallas

    I agree, shut this office DOWN. There are a significant number of organizations out in the non-profit world who could use the funding without the religious strings.

    This was yet another boondoggle by the Republicans to shade that they were cutting social services that helped the poor through either state or federal organizations by instead funneling money to churches to take up the slack. Instead, fund our social services to take back on what they do, and do better than religious groups, and take the religious groups out of federal funding altogether.

    A friend of mine who works for a non profit whose only goal is to reach the children of the poor and homeless and give them skills and knowledge to stay off of drugs and alcohol has seen almost 80% of their state and federal funding cut over the last 8 years. Their work includes camps, field trips, school clothes and books, presents for holidays and their birthdays, as well as lessons in self esteem: and has an incredible rate of success, yet their funding has been cut continuously. Prevention is the better alternative to the crime, welfare, and drag on the economy that drug and alcohol addicts place on our society.

    February 5, 2009 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  3. Jackie in Dallas

    Faith-based initiatives have flatly FAILED at what they were supposed to do: provide services that the Republican government did not want to fund, such as mental health, care for the indigent, etc. etc. etc.

    February 5, 2009 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  4. Ben in Oil City

    Jeremy February 5th, 2009 12:18 pm ET

    It is inaccurate to say "Separation of Church and State." It is found no where in the Constitution. In fact, the first Amendment, says Congress shall make no law establishing or prohibiting religion or the free practice thereof. America was birthed on Judeo-Chrisian values

    Sir, your right when you say It is inaccurate to say "Separation of Church and State." It is found no where in the Constitution.
    However, your other statment is the real issue here,America was birthed on Judeo-Chrisian values. This leave out anybody who doesn't belong to your religous dogma. Just ask an Indian!

    February 5, 2009 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
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