Obama Works to Redefine Role of Faith in First 100 Days

The president tries to win over some religious conservatives while keeping secular liberals on board.

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But the move caused gay rights groups, who enthusiastically backed Obama during the election, to question whether he really respected them. Those doubts resurfaced when word leaked that the administration had invited former Indianapolis Colts Coach Tony Dungy, who endorsed a gay marriage ban in Indiana, to join its faith advisory council. After an outcry from liberal groups, Dungy declined the offer, citing scheduling conflicts with council meetings.

But Obama's faith-based stagecraft—in announcing he would lift federal limits on embryonic stem cell research by executive order, Obama said he was called "as a person of faith...to ease human suffering"—has helped him avoid the evangelical animus that plagued Bill Clinton in the second half of his administration and John Kerry in the 2004 election.

The administration's sensitivity on faith has also been evident in the types of messages it avoids. That includes its decision to put off rescinding the ban on federal funds to family planning groups abroad that support or offer abortion until after the anniversary of Roe v. Wade hads passed. President Clinton, by contrast, rescinded the ban on the Roe anniversary, the date of the annual March for Life in Washington. "This is a signal that the new administration is going to take a different approach and tone from the old culture wars," said a Democrat close to the administration.

Of course, such moves are purely symbolic. Many of the faithful are watching to see whether Obama will deliver on abortion reduction—and whether he can keep religious groups partnering with the federal government.

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