(Washington, DC, February 05, 2009) While the American Humanist Association appreciated Barack Obama’s latest shout-out to non-believers at his National Prayer Breakfast this morning, the organization continues to be concerned about the president’s White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
President Obama said: “There is no doubt that the very nature of faith means that some of our beliefs will never be the same. We read from different texts. We follow different edicts. We subscribe to different accounts of how we came to be here and where we’re going next–and some subscribe to no faith at all.” He then added that, for various religions and “for humanists,” there is belief in “the Golden Rule–the call to love one another; to understand one another; to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth.”
In response, American Humanist Association President David Niose said, “We appreciate the acknowledgement from our president that we exist and support the common decencies. But since we see no humanist organizations represented among the 25 faith and secular leaders selected to serve on the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, then we continue to have doubts.”
Later in the day, after the prayer breakfast, Obama signed an executive order creating the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The executive order expands and refocuses the faith-based initiative created by former President George W. Bush.
Niose responded: “While Obama’s background as a community organizer taught him the value of local religious organizations for delivering social services, it may not have shown him the numerous problems that government entanglement with religious groups can create. Therefore, while we applaud the president’s desire to reach real people with the help they need, we insist that he be vigilant in ensuring that both religious proselytizing and discriminatory hiring practices will be prevented. And we also hope that the same performance standards expected of government-funded secular organizations will be applied as rigorously to faith-based charities.”
During the presidential campaign, Obama had laid out “a few basic principles” of his intended program, saying: “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. Second, federal dollars that go directly to churches, temples and mosques can only be used on secular programs. And we’ll also ensure that taxpayer dollars only go to those programs that actually work.”
But Joshua Dubois, the Office’s new director, expressed a more nuanced position in recent reports. “We’re creating a process to look at this in a way that can withstand legal scrutiny and takes into account views on all sides,” he said.
In response, American Humanist Association Executive Director Roy Speckhardt declared, “We will be watching to make sure Obama keeps this original promise and that his efforts remain consistent with the U.S. Constitution. In these bad economic times, nobody should suffer the humiliation of being denied employment or denied charitable benefits because they believe in the ‘wrong’ religion or no religion. Government benefits, of all things, shouldn’t render some citizens second class.”
Since its founding in 1941, the American Humanist Association has consistently supported the ideal of religiously-neutral secular government and a clear separation between church and state.
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The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 100 local chapters and affiliates across America.
Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms our responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.