Last July, Barack Obama gave a campaign speech touting “the value of a partnership between the White House and faith-based groups,” and said that “Washington needs to draw on” faith-based organizations to make change happen. Even as he endorsed an expanded faith-based initiatives program, Obama readily acknowledged the constitutional questions and sought to quell concern that he would be blurring the line between church and state:
OBAMA: 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. First, if you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them — or against the people you hire — on the basis of their religion.
In arguing that faith-based organizations must “retain their civil right to base employment decisions on their ideals and mission,” President Bush in effect allowed religious groups to discriminate against people who didn’t conform to their “ideals” — people like gay men and women. Obama’s July speech made it clear he would change those rules.
Or so it seemed. TAPPED reported last night that, according to Joshua DuBois, Obama’s pick to head the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighbhorhood Partnerships, the White House is wavering on overturning the Bush rule. Obama will sign an executive order today directing the Justice Department and White House lawyers to review the program to decide whether or not to continue to allow hiring discrimination. In the meantime, Bush’s discriminatory rule will stand:
On the employment discrimination issue, [Rev. Welton Gaddy] Gaddy said that DuBois told him that the issue has been farmed out to the Justice Department for a recommendation on how to proceed. Every day that passes without changing the Bush policy on employment discrimination, said Gaddy, “we’re implementing the Bush program.”
In the meantime, the White House is likely to suspend the distribution of funds until the question is decided.
In a press release today, Obama said his faith-based programs will be Constitutional, though he notably refused to clarify his policy on religious groups’ hiring practices:
As the priorities of this Office are carried out, it will be done in a way that upholds the Constitution — by ensuring that both existing programs and new proposals are consistent with American laws and values. The separation of church and state is a principle President Obama supports firmly — not only because it protects our democracy, but also because it protects the plurality of America’s religious and civic life. The Executive Order President Obama will sign today strengthens this by adding a new mechanism for the Executive Director of the Office to work through the White House Counsel to seek the advice of the Attorney General on difficult legal and constitutional issues.