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Reese Schonfeld Headshot

Obama: What He Said and What We're Getting

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In July, in an open letter to Barack Obama, I wrote that in a speech to Evangelical groups he called for a "partnership between the White House and grassroots groups, both faithful and secular." George W. Bush had instituted such a partnership in 2001, and Obama promised that not only would he continue the program, but he would "give them more money than George W. Bush had."

On February 5th of this year, as you all read here, President Obama delivered on that promise. He signed an Executive Order that established his version of the White House Office for Faith-Based Programs and Neighborhood Partnerships. In it, he deleted or modified many of the provisions in the Bush decree, but he kept one provision that is particularly odious. Religious contractors are still permitted to discriminate against employees on grounds of "race, creed, color, or national origin."

Ever since 1965, when Lyndon Johnson issued his Equal Opportunity Order, such discrimination has been illegal. George W. Bush changed that in 2002, when he amended his first decree on faith-based partnership and exempted all religious contractors from that requirement. Religious groups were free to discriminate, and they do. Every religion, every sect, is now free to pay federal money only to members of its religion, if they desire to do so.

Baptists may hire only Baptists, Catholics may hire only Catholics, Orthodox Jews may hire only Orthodox Jews, Mennonites may hire only Mennonites, Hassides may hire only Hassides, Abyssinian churches may hire only blacks, Sunis may hire only Sunis, Shiites may hire only Shiites, Mormons may hire only Mormons, and they all do. And they pay them with tax dollars from every American, from the most extreme atheist, to the most fervent believer, and Barack Obama let that stand.

A New York Times editorialist wrote on Monday that the President "chose to sign his order away from the view of television cameras or an audience," and suspects "that Mr. Obama was not particularly proud of this omission [the failure to delete Mr. Bush's permission to discriminate]." The Times goes on to say that "the Pentecostal minister selected by Mr. Obama to lead his initiative, says the president is 'committed to non-discrimination'." But Mr. Obama's version says only that "the Executive Director, acting through the Counsel to the President, may seek the opinion of the Attorney General on any Constitutional and statutory questions involving existing or prospective programs and practices."

To ask someone, who claims to have been the victim of discrimination, to ask the Executive Director of the White House Faith-based Group, who then must request the President's Counsel for permission to go to the Attorney General and get a Justice Department opinion that he, the victim, has a legitimate complaint, sounds like a scene from a Groucho Marx movie, with the Marx brothers playing all the roles, from victim to Attorney General.

President Obama appears to be running scared -- scared of the Republican minority in Congress, scared of faith-based groups, scared of boldness. My question is: what were we "hoping" for -- what is he delivering?