Preserving Our Constitutional Commitments and Values
The goal of this office will not be to favor one religious group over another – or even religious groups over secular groups. It will simply be to work on behalf of those organizations that want to work on behalf of our communities, and to do so without blurring the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state. This work is important, because whether it’s a secular group advising families facing foreclosure or faith-based groups providing job-training to those who need work, few are closer to what’s happening on our streets and in our neighborhoods than these organizations. People trust them. Communities rely on them. And we will help them.
--President Barack Obama, February 5, 2009
The Obama Administration has a firm commitment to ensure that partnerships between government and non-profit organizations are consistent with our Constitution and our values. These partnerships must comply with the guarantees of the religion clauses of the First Amendment, for example. In other words, they must respect the free exercise of religion and avoid any governmental establishment of faith. The White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and Federal Centers work to make sure that organizations engaging with the Federal government as well as the government officials supporting those partnerships have all of the information they need to comply with relevant law and policy.
President Obama issued an executive order in 2010 that set forth fundamental principles and policymaking criteria for partnerships with faith-based and other neighborhood organizations. This order emphasizes the Administration’s commitment to respect First Amendment principles and values. Some of the legal obligations that come along with a Federal grant include the responsibility to separate, in either time or location, any explicitly religious activities from programs funded by direct government aid. Explicitly religious activities (activities that involve overt religious content, such as religious instruction, devotional exercises, worship, proselytizing or evangelism) must be clearly separated from the federally funded program, privately funded, and purely voluntary for program beneficiaries. Also, organizations that receive Federal funds may not discriminate on the basis of religion in whom they serve, and, if a beneficiary or prospective beneficiary objects to the religious character of an organization providing federally funded services, that organization must refer the beneficiary to an alternative provider.
At the same time, this executive order emphasizes a series of protections for an organization’s religious identity while it received and administers Federal aid. The order notes that religious organization may use religious terms in its organizational name, select board members on a religious basis, and include religious references in mission statements and other organizational documents. Also, a religious organization may not be required to remove religious icons, scriptures or other symbols from its facilities simply because it receives and administers Federal aid.