The most contentious issue surrounding a revamped White House Office on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships – potential restrictions on the hiring practices of religious groups that receive taxpayer dollars – will undergo a thorough legal review before President Barack Obama makes a decision on hiring guidelines.
Obama plans to sign an executive order on Thursday to establish the partnership, the White House said.
The order would also direct White House officials and lawyers to work with the Justice Department to develop a hiring policy, according to a religious leader with knowledge of the plans. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the details have not been released.
The deliberate approach is unlikely to please either conservative religious leaders, who worry they’ll need to compromise their religious beliefs to participate, or liberal religious and secular leaders, who want to quickly undo Bush administration hiring practices.
“Neither side is going to get exactly what they want,” the religious leader said.
On Thursday Obama is to announce the partnerships, which expand and tweak a faith-based office founded by President George W. Bush. The appointment of Joshua DuBois, a 26-year-old Pentecostal minister who headed religious outreach for Obama’s Senate office and later his campaign, also will be made official.
Obama also planned to name 25 religious and secular leaders to an advisory board.
During his presidential campaign, Obama said he wanted to expand the White House faith-based efforts Bush began. But while he endorsed Bush’s initiative to give religious groups more access to federal funding, he also promised to tweak the program.
“Now, make no mistake, as someone who used to teach constitutional law, I believe deeply in the separation of church and state, but I don’t believe this partnership will endanger that idea – so long as we follow a few basic principles,” Obama said during a campaign speech in Zanesville, Ohio.
Obama’s advisers want to be certain tax dollars sent to the faith-based social service groups are being used for secular purposes, such as to feeding the hungry or housing the homeless – not for religious evangelism. The administration doesn’t want to be perceived as managing the groups yet does want transparency and accountability.
Obama pledged during the campaign to allow religious institutions funded through his revamped faith-based office to hire and fire based on religion – but only for their activities that are privately funded.
One question is whether the faith-based office will continue to hand out grants under the Bush rules while the hiring issue is under legal review.
Jim Wallis, a member of the new advisory council, downplayed the significance of the hiring issue. He said it came up only once in transition meetings, and that poverty, human trafficking and the Middle East were discussed in much more detail.
“I’m sure it will come up, but it’s not the dominant issue,” said Wallis, founder of the liberal Christian social-justice network Sojourners.
The council is also expected to weigh in on the hiring issue, with no timeframe set for resolution.