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When President Obama issued his executive order repurposing the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, some groups on the Left predictably decried the office as blurring the line between church and state. But conservatives and others who support the office also expressed concerns.

Some groups had feared that Obama would require faith-based organizations that receive grants to hire applicants from other faiths. But the President decided not to issue a blanket rule. Instead, the White House announced that DuBois would be working with the Justice Department to consider the hiring question on a case-by-case basis.

"That strikes me as arbitrary. How do you decide on a case-by-case basis what is equitable to all?" said Amy Black, a Wheaton College political science professor. "We don't want religious discrimination to become a cloak for other forms of discrimination."

Calvin College political science professor Douglas Koopman questioned the office's more issues-driven approach. Obama set specific issues for the office to address: reducing poverty, reducing the need for abortions, encouraging responsible fatherhood, and fostering worldwide interfaith dialogue.

"[T]hat's the cart before the horse. They should be going to the faith-based groups for the agenda, not asking them to fit into the agenda that they have created," said Koopman, Black's coauthor for Of Little Faith: The Politics of George W. Bush's Faith-Based Initiatives. "For all of his flaws, Bush respected the independence, creativity, and savvy of faith-related groups more so than what I'm reading about the Obama approach."

It will also be difficult to measure the success of some aspects of the office. How does one know if the office is really encouraging ...

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In the Magazine

May 2009

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