Opinion: Obama names more members to his faith-based advisory group

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Appropriately enough for a week that includes Passover and Easter, the Obama administration has filled out the ranks of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

That’s the group of religious and secular leaders charged with advising President Obama on a broad range of domestic and foreign policy issues. Obama announced some council members in February. On Monday he named the last nine members to the 25-person panel. That’s one of the new members above, Bishop Charles Blake, the Los Angeles-based presiding bishop of the Church of God in Christ.

It’s a diverse group. A sampling:

Jim Wallis, chief executive of the advocacy group Sojourners.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism.


Rev. Frank Page, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Fred Davie, a gay rights activist and senior adviser of Public/Private Ventures.

During the presidential campaign, Obama pledged to continue President Bush’s faith-based office but with a significant twist: He said that groups receiving federal money would no longer be allowed to discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion.

But as our colleagues Peter Wallsten and Duke Helfand reported in February, Obama left the controversial Bush policy in place. In other words, religious groups could discriminate -- Christians hiring just Christians, for example, or Muslims hiring just Muslims -- and still be in the running to obtain grants. As Walllsten and Helfand explained:

Obama announced that White House officials might seek guidance from the Justice Department if questions arise about the legality of potential grant recipients. In essence, the executive order, which did not specifically mention discrimination, gives the White House the option to review a specific grant for legal reasons but does not overturn Bush’s broader policy.

Some Democrats grumbled about this lack of change in Washington, but reviews have been generally positive for the mix of personalities and religious traditions on the faith-based advisory panel.

After the jump, the White House announcement of the latest appointees. We’ve highlighted the newest members in bold.

THE WHITE HOUSE Office of the Press Secretary ______________________________________________________________________ FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE April 6, 2009 President Obama Announces Additional Members of Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Washington – President Barack Obama today announced additional members of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

The Advisory Council is part of the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and is composed of religious and secular leaders and scholars from different backgrounds. Each member of the Council is appointed to a one-year term.

The members of the Council are:

Diane Baillargeon, President & CEO, Seedco New York, NY

*Anju Bhargava, Founder, Asian Indian Women of America New Jersey

*Bishop Charles Blake, Presiding Bishop, Church of God in Christ Los Angeles, CA

Noel Castellanos, CEO, Christian Community Development Association Chicago, IL

*The Rev. Peg Chemberlin, President-Elect, National Council of Churches USA Minneapolis, MN

Dr. Arturo Chavez, President & CEO, Mexican American Catholic College San Antonio, TX

Fred Davie, Senior Adviser, Public/Private Ventures New York, NY

*Nathan Diament, Director of Public Policy, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America Washington, DC

Pastor Joel C. Hunter, Senior Pastor, Northland, a Church Distributed Longwood, FL

*Harry Knox, Director, Religion and Faith Program, Human Rights Campaign Washington, DC

Bishop Vashti M. McKenzie, Presiding Bishop, 13th Episcopal District, African Methodist Episcopal Church Knoxville, TN

*Dalia Mogahed, Executive Director, Gallup Center for Muslim Studies Washington, DC

Rev. Otis Moss, Jr., Pastor emeritus, Olivet Institutional Baptist Church Cleveland, OH

Dr. Frank S. Page, President emeritus, Southern Baptist Convention Taylors, SC

Eboo S. Patel, Founder & Executive Director, Interfaith Youth Core Chicago, IL

*Anthony Picarello, General Counsel , United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Washington, DC

*Nancy Ratzan, National President, National Council of Jewish Women Miami, FL

Melissa Rogers, Director, Wake Forest School of Divinity Center for Religion and Public Affairs Winston-Salem, NC

Rabbi David N. Saperstein, Director & Counsel, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism Washington, DC

Dr. William J. Shaw, President, National Baptist Convention, USA Philadelphia, PA

Father Larry J. Snyder, President, Catholic Charities USA Alexandria, VA

Richard Stearns, President, World Vision Bellevue, WA

Judith N. Vredenburgh, President and Chief Executive Officer, Big Brothers / Big Sisters of America Philadelphia, PA

Rev. Jim Wallis, President & Executive Director, Sojourners Washington, DC

*Dr. Sharon Watkins, General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Indianapolis, IN

NOTE: Members marked with an asterisk were announced today. The White House Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will be a resource for nonprofits and community organizations, both secular and faith based, looking for ways to make a bigger impact in their communities, learn their obligations under the law, cut through red tape, and make the most of what the federal government has to offer. Other members of the Advisory Council were announced earlier this year. # #

-- Steve Padilla