As we await the president’s executive order establishing the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (new acronym = OFANP), Gorski’s back with more from his “religious leader with knowledge of the plans.” The man with the plans now says that the order will direct White House lawyers and officials to work with DOJ in developing a hiring policy for what we might call Faith-Based 2.0. Neither side, according to the man, will get everything they want. There’s a lot of complexity here, including the fact that the new SCHIP signed by the president yesterday appears to establish a hiring waiver for faith-based service providers using government funds.
In his talk at the prayer breakfast this morning, the president put his approach this way:
The goal of this office will not be to favor one religious group over another – or even religious groups over secular groups. It will simply be to work on behalf of those organizations that want to work on behalf of our communities, and to do so without blurring the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state.
That’s a nice thought, but as a constitutional lawyer Obama knows full well that the line the founders drew was blurry from the start, and has gotten a lot blurrier in the past couple of decades. What’s good about kicking this sucker over to the lawyers is that it gives everybody a chance to think clearly about what has become a mare’s nest of conflicting statutes and constitutional principles. I trust my old roommate Dan Meltzer, now deputy WH counsel, to sort through the mess.
It matters, and not just to us religion nerds. In today’s story, Gorski has Jim Wallis “downplaying” 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.” That’s Wallis saying, “Listen, sonny, we’ve been dealing with the big issues facing humankind, not that picayune shit you nitpicking media types keep picking at.” But the hiring issue is what doomed Bush’s effort to get Faith-Based 1.0 through Congress, and it could easily turn into a monster for Obama as well. From Wright through Warren, he’s shown a persistent tendency to underestimate the toxic potential of religion in politics.
In his prayer breakfast remarks, he said:
We will also reach out to leaders and scholars around the world to foster a more productive and peaceful dialogue on faith. I don’t expect divisions to disappear overnight, nor do I believe that long-held views and conflicts will suddenly vanish. But I do believe that if we can talk to one another openly and honestly, then perhaps old rifts will start to mend and new partnerships will begin to emerge. In a world that grows smaller by the day, perhaps we can begin to crowd out the destructive forces of zealotry and make room for the healing power of understanding.
A good place to begin would be to make sure his own house is in order, by getting OFANP right from the start.
Update: WSJ version, with on-the-record stuff from DuBois.