When Barack Obama campaigned for President, he said that he would expand George W. Bush’s Office of Government religion (the so-called faith-based initiatives), a great disappointment to Americans who still believe in the first promise of the first amendment in the Bill of Rights: No government establishment of religion. Still, Obama promised that he would counter this expansion of government religion with reforms. Most significantly, Barack Obama pledged that he would end the practice of allowing organizations to use government funds to discriminate on the basis of religion.
Just days after being inaugurated, Barack Obama found the time to announce the expansion of the White House Office of Government Religion, but was silent about his promise to end religious discrimination through the office’s programs. When we criticized the broken promise, people said not to worry. President Obama just got his job, and we can’t expect him to change everything right away, they said. Yes We Can had already been transformed into No We Can’t.
Yesterday, President Obama finished appointing members to the council advising the Office of Government Religion. Yet, still, though an entire season has passed, Barack Obama has yet to make good on his promise to end government-funded religious discrimination.
In a time when millions of Americans are looking for work, Barack Obama’s White House continues to support organizations that use government funds to discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion. People are made vulnerable to being fired for no other reason than that they don’t belong to the same church as their supervisors. That’s not just unconstitutional. It’s cruel.
At the same time, the Office of Government Religion has been mired in political battles over its membership. It seems that there is no consensus among Americans about what sort of religious leaders ought to be given the government positions to administer the money that will flow out to churches hungry for cash. That’s no surprise, given that there’s no consensus among Americans about religion in general, which is one of the reasons we’re supposed to have separation of church and state.
Bishop Charles E. Blake, a Pentacostal leader, got a place on in the Office of Government Religion, but liberal Christians campaigned against the appointment, noting that Blake has used his religious position to campaign against reproductive rights. Harry Knox was also granted a position in the office, but Catholics are furious about his appointment because Knox has criticized the Pope in public.
These conflicts illustrate why it was a dumb idea for Barack Obama to continue George W. Bush’s Office of Government Religion. President Obama has put himself in the place of deciding which religious groups will get the special privilege of a seat in the White House, and which religious groups will be excluded. It’s not supposed to be the job of the President, or the government in general, to elevate some forms of religion, while holding others back. Religion is supposed to be a private affair, totally separate from government.
Barack Obama lacks the wisdom of our nation’s founders, who authorized the Bill of Rights. Obama seems to think that he can use government power to juggle the favor of religious groups to his political advantage. That’s a dangerous game, and so far, Obama’s performance it looks like a disaster.