A Clarion Call—and a Bombshell?—on Obama and Church-State?

February 9, 2012

A February 9th essay on Salon.com by ACLU Legislative Counsel Dena Sher (https://www.salon.com/2012/02/09/obamas_winning_hand_on_religion/singleton/) casts down the gauntlet, presenting the case for Barack Obama positioning himself as a more secular president, perhaps picking up support from mainstream believers uncomfortable with religious-right posturing. Take, for example, those tens of millions of U. S. Catholics who, unlike their 271 bishops, apparently think contraception is just fine. Ms. Sher also included what may be a bombshell.

Remember candidate Obama's 2008 speech in Zanesville, Ohio, in which he pledged to clean up then-President Bush's Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives? Most vividly he called for an end of public funding for religious charities that discriminate on the basis of religion. Then, do you remember how President Obama, once elected, did nothing of the sort? Between those two points, Sher draws a disturbing -- and if true, little known -- connection:

"Obama’s signature faith initiative — the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships — exists today largely in the form that these conservative religious leaders demanded. Back in 2008, candidate Obama nearly spelled the end of a carefully cultivated alliance with some religious leaders when he pledged in a speech to fix the constitutional inadequacies of George W. Bush’s Faith-Based Initiative. These livid religious leaders extracted a promise from the campaign: Don’t make a fuss about the speech now, and Obama will not make the changes he promised."

I wish I had more confidence that President Obama would absorb the lessons of this article. We seculars have a lot more coming to us than occasional mentions at the end of lists of religious people.