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Sarah Posner: A faith-based opportunity for Obama

Published: Monday, Aug. 31 2015 9:27 a.m. MDT

President Barack Obama closes his eyes as he listens to offerings of prayers at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013. While speaking, the president said he hopes they maintain the morning's bipartisan spirit a little longer.   (Manuel Balce Ceneta, ASSOCIATED PRESS) President Barack Obama closes his eyes as he listens to offerings of prayers at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013. While speaking, the president said he hopes they maintain the morning's bipartisan spirit a little longer. (Manuel Balce Ceneta, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Our take: Does the departure Friday of the White House’s liason to faith-based organizations provide an opportunity for President Obama to smooth things over with religious leaders who see the administration as hostile toward faith? Sarah Posner at Religion Dispatches hopes so. She writes that while Joshua DuBois focused on initiatives for the needy and sent Obama daily Bible verses, issues over religious liberty were ignored.

At the annual National Prayer Breakfast yesterday, President Obama announced the departure of Joshua DuBois, the director of his controversial Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. DuBois, who has long frustrated civil liberties and religious freedom advocacy groups with his resistance to their concerns about constitutional problems plaguing the office, is off to teach at New York University and to launch "a new organization to help organizations and local governments partner with faith based organizations," a White House official told me. Michelle Boorstein at the Washington Post also reports that DuBois also will be writing "a book of devotionals for leaders based on the ones he sends the president each day."

A successor has not been announced. But DuBois' departure gives the White House an opportunity to recast the office with a director focused on overseeing significant constitutional protections, rather than sending the president scripture, tweeting Bible verses, and further entangling the White House with religious organizations.

DuBois has his admirers, to be sure. For many of them, his daily emailed devotionals to the president—which Obama took pains to highlight yesterday—are frequently cited as evidence not only of the president's piety but also to counter conservative claims that the White House is somehow hostile to religion, or insufficiently committed to the country's "Christian heritage." While the president is undoubtedly entitled to receive and read whatever religious materials he desires, should they really be coming from a White House staffer?

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