Magazine article Church & State

White House 'Faith-Based' Conference Takes on Feel of Worship Service

Magazine article Church & State

White House 'Faith-Based' Conference Takes on Feel of Worship Service

Article excerpt

A recent White House-sponsored conference on faith-based initiatives aimed at the Latino community took on the air of a religious observance, with clergy-led prayers and songs praising Jesus Christ.

The Sept. 24 "White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives Conference on Hispanic Youth" in Washington, D.C., included two invocations by Christian clergy, one before a videotaped welcome by President George W. Bush and the other preceding Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings' keynote address.

A report by the Roundtable on Religion & Social Welfare Policy noted that the Rev. Miguel Rivera, president of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, "led the audience in a Spanish-language song praising Jesus before explaining why the resources, expertise and integrity of religious organizations make them best equipped to change communities. No one else can deliver with such commitment as the Latino faith community, he said."

Not everyone was comfortable with the approach. One attendee from a secular charity in Puerto Rico said the conference was informative but said she was concerned about the religious tone of Rivera's speech.

"I'm personally a Christian, but I'm from a secular organization," she told the Roundtable, "and I wonder how some others may have felt about a speech at a government conference that was so religious."

Americans United staff members who attended the conference said they could sense a certain amount of tension in the room.

"There was no pretense of welcoming non-Christians," one staffer said. "A speaker started her speech with, 'I hear there are a lot of Pentecostals here. Can I get an amen!?'"

Before the first invocation, organizers announced that they would observe a moment of silence for those who didn't pray. But the Rev. Ruben Ortiz then asked people "who are with me" to stand for the prayer. …

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