By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
President Obama has signed an executive order establishing a new White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The press briefing from the White House is mum on the most divisive issue surrounding the office—whether religious organizations will be allowed to consider religious background in hiring for federally-funded positions, as they were under George W. Bush—but does outline the office's four key priorities:
The Office's top priority will be making community groups an integral part of our economic recovery and poverty a burden fewer have to bear when recovery is complete.
It will be one voice among several in the administration that will look at how we support women and children, address teenage pregnancy, and reduce the need for abortion.
The Office will strive to support fathers who stand by their families, which involves working to get young men off the streets and into well-paying jobs, and encouraging responsible fatherhood.
Finally, beyond American shores this Office will work with the National Security Council to foster interfaith dialogue with leaders and scholars around the world.
Three of these priorities are especially newsworthy.
Outlining a goal to "reduce the need for abortion" signals that the faith-based office will be integral to carrying out a new strategy that Democrats have spent lots of time talking about but have yet to translate into policy: reducing the number of abortions by providing assistance to women and families, a break with the traditional antiabortion rights position of fighting abortion by curtailing abortion rights.
The office's goal of "encouraging responsible fatherhood" represents a commitment to Bush-era policies that are more associated with the political right. This should make Bill Cosby happy.
The plan for the office to partner with the National Security Council to foster interfaith dialogue around the world represents an important new expansion of the office's duties from the Bush years, when it was focused primarily on domestic social problems. With Obama granting his first TV interview as president to an Arabic language news network and vowing to speak from the capital of a predominantly Muslim nation sometime soon, watch for this effort to be focused on engaging the Muslim world.