Transition team meetings with faith groups focused on planning for a Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Obama's version of the faith-based initiatives office that President Bush launched during his first term. The meetings have included advocates of strict church-state separation, who have traditionally criticized such programs.
"It doesn't bother me," Americans United for Separation of Church and State Executive Director Barry W. Lynn says of the Obama policy of having aides sit down frequently with religious groups. "It would only bother me if [Obama] starts implementing the policies of religious groups that are inconsistent with guarantees of the Constitution, and I haven't seen that yet."
Still, creating consensus around the Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships is emerging as an early challenge in Obama's efforts to satisfy both secular liberal and religious groups. For instance, proponents of church-state separation want Obama to peel back Bush-era exemptions on employment nondiscrimination laws for religious organizations receiving federal funds—allowing Christian groups to hire only Christians—while some religious groups say they need such hiring discretion to maintain the religious component of their programs.
For now, though, those groups are happy just to have the incoming administration's ear. "We're glad to have a good seat at the table and that [the Obama transition team] is listening to all sides," says Tanya Clay House, director of public policy for People for the American Way, which has expressed concerns about the propriety of federal faith-based initiatives. "The old administration listened to just one side of the argument."