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Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Established by President Obama

President Obama announced late last week that he plans to maintain and expand President Bush’s Office on Faith Based Initiatives. Obama has renamed the office the Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, has appointed 15 of the 25-person council, and has appointed Joshua DeBois, a Pentecostal who worked on Obama’s campaign, as the head of the office, according to the Washington Post. A White House press release outlined four priorities for the office, including that “it will be one voice among several in the administration that will look at how we support women and children, address teenage pregnancy, and reduce the need for abortion.”

Though Obama has said that the office’s goal “will not be to favor one religious group over another – or even religious groups over secular groups,” his choices for the advisory panel are already drawing criticism. In relation to the priority regarding reproductive health care, former president of Catholics for Free Choice Frances Kissling wrote for RH Reality Check that “The only person on the Council who might have the slightest knowledge about these issues is the president of Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Judith Vredenburgh. Of the nine religious representatives on the Council, most are anti-abortion, from Jim Wallis and Joel Hunter to the emeritus president of the Southern Baptist Convention and of course, Father Larry Snyder, head of Catholic Charities. The rest have no public record on reproductive health issues, with the single exception of Rabbi David Saperstein, who is pro-choice.”

Women’s rights organizations have been lobbying President Obama to reopen the White House Office on Women’s Issues, but currently, women’s issues continue to be covered by the Office of Public Liaison. Martha Burk, co-founder of the Center for Advancement of Public Policy, stated in the Huffington Post that “to accord this advisory panel so much power, while relegating women to the margins, speaks volumes….It’s not too late for President Obama to change his mind and give the majority – women – a place at the table by re-opening the White House Office on Women’s Issues.”

Sources:

Washington Post 2/6/09; Huffington Post 2/6/09; RH Reality Check 2/9/09; White House Press Release 2/5/09