The Brody File has learned that President Obama will announce the creation of a new President's Advisory Council on Faith during this Thursday's National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC.
He will also lay out his plan and ideals for The White House's Faith Based Office. The new director of the office, Joshua DuBois will be announced as well. The prayer breakfast will be an opportunity for President Obama to explain the role of the faith based office and his vision of how it intersects with government.
A source close to the situation tells The Brody File that this newly developed President's Council on Faith will be made up of outside faith community leaders from across the political and ideological spectrum who will advise the administration on a host of faith related issues. They will not be employed by The White House but rather the council will work closely with the Faith Based Office. In essence, this advisory Council is one part of the overall office. The advisory council will focus on ways to contribute to the common good and come up with ideas on how to improve public policy in all sorts of areas ranging from health insurance to poverty. Some of the Council members will be on stage with President Obama at the prayer breakfast. The size of the group and member names will be revealed during the prayer breakfast but this source tells The Brody File that the council won't be made up of "The Usual Suspects".In other words, it won't be just a bunch of progressive liberals. It's fair to say that you'll see different Church denominations represented. Details of the council are still being worked out but generally the council will meet face to face and by conference call. The expectation is that they will meet with President Obama from time to time though details on that have not been hammered out.
Get ready to expect something different with this Obama faith based office compared to the Bush administration. Talking to people on the inside of this, The Brody File is being told that faith groups are really going to have input into public policy. Some of the top domestic policy advisors in The White House have already met with many faith leaders to discuss policy issues. Under the Bush administration the goal was mostly to get government money in the hands of these faith groups. While that will be part of it, the sense here is that the Obama administration will go further in making sure faith groups really have a seat at the table when it comes to solving America's most pressing problems.
Hiring protection for faith groups will be a controversial item that the Obama administration will have to confront at some point. But right now at least the discussion isn't focused on that as much as it is looking at a way to integrate faith and government to make public policy more effective.
When he was a candidate for President, Barack Obama laid out his vision on faith related matters in a speech in Zanesville, Ohio. Read that here and an excerpt from that speech is below:
I still believe it's a good idea to have a partnership between the White House and grassroots groups, both faith-based and secular. But it has to be a real partnership – not a photo-op. That's what it will be when I'm President. I'll establish a new Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The new name will reflect a new commitment. This Council will not just be another name on the White House organization chart – it will be a critical part of my administration.
Now, make no mistake, as someone who used to teach constitutional law, I believe deeply in the separation of church and state, but I don't believe this partnership will endanger that idea – so long as we follow a few basic principles. First, if you get a federal grant, you can't use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can't discriminate against them – or against the people you hire – on the basis of their religion. Second, federal dollars that go directly to churches, temples, and mosques can only be used on secular programs. And we'll also ensure that taxpayer dollars only go to those programs that actually work.
With these principles as a guide, my Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will strengthen faith-based groups by making sure they know the opportunities open to them to build on their good works. Too often, faith-based groups – especially smaller congregations and those that aren't well connected – don't know how to apply for federal dollars, or how to navigate a government website to see what grants are available, or how to comply with federal laws and regulations. We rely too much on conferences in Washington, instead of getting technical assistance to the people who need it on the ground. What this means is that what's stopping many faith-based groups from helping struggling families is simply a lack of knowledge about how the system works.
Well, that will change when I'm President. I will empower the nonprofit religious and community groups that do understand how this process works to train the thousands of groups that don't. We'll "train the trainers" by giving larger faith-based partners like Catholic Charities and Lutheran Services and secular nonprofits like Public/Private Ventures the support they need to help other groups build and run effective programs. Every house of worship that wants to run an effective program and that's willing to abide by our constitution – from the largest mega-churches and synagogues to the smallest store-front churches and mosques – can and will have access to the information and support they need to run that program.
This Council will also help target our efforts to meet key challenges like education. All across America, too many children simply can't read or perform math at their grade-level, a problem that grows worse for low-income students during the summer months and afterschool hours. Nonprofits like Children's Defense Fund are working to solve this problem. They hold summer and afterschool Freedom Schools in communities across this country, and many of their classes are held in churches.