Washington Post

Taking the President on Faith
The Washington Post

When George W. Bush introduced the concept of a faith-based office, the original vision was to help nonprofit charities get government support to feed the hungry and house the homeless. From the reaction, you’d have thought Bush was trying to install a caliphate. Indeed, most newspaper stories focused on the blurring of church and state.

By contrast, when Obama upgraded and renamed the program — the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships — most stories focused on procedural questions and a new, 25-member faith-based advisory council. Few, if any, headlines questioned whether Obama might be using his faith-based office to advance liberal policies, whereas Bush was under persistent fire for allegedly pushing a pro-life agenda.

During the Bush years, faith-based initiative stories were 50 percent more likely to be on the front page than in 2009, and separation of church and state was the top concern in 2001.

Obama, who, in fact, invokes Jesus in speeches more often than Bush did, according to an analysis by Politico, not only embraced his predecessor’s initiative but has given it the loaves-and-fishes treatment by expanding the mission.

One may argue, as Bush critics have, that the previous administration similarly tried to advance policy through its faith-based office. What one may not argue is that Obama has been treated to the same scrutiny as his predecessor.