February 4, 2010
The Honorable Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President,
You already have received an in-depth letter from the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination (CARD), of which I am a member, addressing concerns with your Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. I am writing to you directly to highlight some additional concerns I have regarding the role of faith in your administration.
I appreciate your administration’s willingness to engage in a discussion about the makeup and role of the faith-based office and your stated commitment to the constitutional boundary between church and state. I was honored to be asked to serve on the taskforce charged with reforming the office and gratified by the significant amount of work we did preparing to formalize our recommendations. However, I am dismayed that this process has resulted in the Bush Administration’s policies being left in place a year into your administration.
You will soon be receiving recommendations from your Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Much of what they will recommend should be implemented as soon as possible. However, as you may already know, there will be two or three recommendations on which members of the taskforce could not reach a consensus and on which, frankly, the majority opinion flies in the face of the appropriate boundaries between the institutions of religion and the institutions of government. Though full weight and consideration should be given to recommendations from your Advisory Council, decisions on recommendations passed along without consensus need to be your own.
On the issue of separate incorporation, I cannot stand behind the recommendation the council appears ready to make – that it is not necessary for a house of worship or other religious organization to separately incorporate to receive government funds. When I shared this point of view with your transition team and stated my support for the requirement of a separate 501(c)3 entity, I was told by Josh Dubois that the opinion I expressed coincided with your point of view. Failure to require a separate entity to receive government funds would dangerously blur the already shaky line between religion and government and invite lawsuits filed against pervasively sectarian organizations using government money to do their sectarian work. To allow government money to flow straight into houses of worship violates the Constitution. It is neither good for religion, nor for government.
President Obama, I hope that your commitment to preventing religious discrimination in government-funded hiring has not wavered. I have been encouraged by your candor on this topic and I have voiced support for your decision to take this issue out of the purview of your Advisory Council. I am disappointed, though, that your administration has taken no apparent steps to correct this problem. As my colleagues and I have asked on a number of occasions, most recently last September, it is crucial that the Department of Justice and Office of Legal Council be directed to review and withdraw the 2007 Memorandum on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that made such practices possible. I also remain deeply troubled by the case-by-case approach to review violations, particularly when no concrete guidelines seems to exist.
Finally, I worry about the transparency of the process involving the Advisory Council. Even in my capacity as a taskforce member, the deliberations of the Advisory Council as a whole have been foggy, beyond the few public meetings and the process by which the recommendations will undergo your Administration’s review. A lack of understanding is even greater among the general public.
Again, I am thankful for your consideration of these issues and your recognition of the need for greater adherence to the constitutional principles that have allowed both religion and democracy to flourish in our nation. I hope you will seriously consider my concerns and those of my colleagues in the CARD coalition as you move forward with your decision. I would be pleased to discuss these matters with you or any member of your staff.
Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy
cc: The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr., Attorney General of the United States;
Joshua DuBois, White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships
Interfaith Alliance celebrates religious freedom by championing individual rights, promoting policies that protect both religion and democracy, and uniting diverse voices to challenge extremism. Founded in 1994, Interfaith Alliance brings together members from 75 faith traditions as well as those without a faith tradition to protect faith and freedom. For more information visit www.interfaithalliance.org.