Church, State and Obama: The President Has a Decidedly Mixed Record on Issues of Religion and Government, Church-State Experts Say
Boston, Rob, Church & State
Prominent Religious Right leader James Dobson is not pleased with the situation in the nation's capital, especially the leadership of President Barack Obama.
"What is happening in Washington fight now is my greatest nightmare," Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, told supporters recently. He opined that everything he has worked on for 25 years is "coming apart... It's unbelievable what's taking place."
If the Religious Right is unhappy with Obama, who took the oath of office as the 44th president of the United States one year ago this month, then advocates of church-state separation must be pleased, fight?
Yes and no.
There's no denying that when Obama took office, many who stand guard on the church-state wall breathed a sigh of relief. The previous eight years had been difficult ones, and there was a sense that things had to get better because they really couldn't get any worse.
Under President George W. Bush, the metaphorical barrier between religion and government took a barrage of direct hits. Bush, who was politically close to the Religious Right, aggressively promoted tax funding of religion through his "faith-based" initiative and celebrated school voucher subsidies for religious schools. He bowed to right-wing religious groups by imposing curbs on abortion and rolling back stem-cell research.
Bush appointed judges to the federal bench who were openly hostile to church-state separation. His Justice Department formed a special unit to roam the country, intervening in church-state disputes alongside Religious Right legal outfits. Monica Goodling, a graduate of Pat Robertson's Regent University, ran amok in the Justice Department, subjecting job applicants to a religious litmus test.
Bush himself often showed a cavalier attitude toward science. He gave a nod to creationism and frequently pursued policies that elevated religious views above scientific ones. Religious Right leaders were frequent visitors to the White House.
Obama represented a sharp break from the Bush approach. Although he courted moderate evangelicals during the election, Obama never made inroads into the Religious Right's base. Its leaders were uniformly hostile to him and backed his opponent, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). When Obama won the election, the Religious Right knew its influence at the White House was going to drop dramatically.
But that doesn't mean everything Obama has done has pleased advocates of church-state separation. Indeed, the Obama record on church and state is mixed. One year later, it's a good time to step back and assess his record so far.
Stem Cells and Science: During his inaugural speech, Obama vowed to respect the role of science in public policy.
"We'll restore science to its rightful place," he pledged, "and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost."
The throng on the National Mall cheered, in recognition, perhaps, that science had often taken a back seat to theology during the Bush years.
Obama soon made good on the promise. Two months after taking office, the president reversed Bushera policies and lifted a ban on human embryonic stem-cell research, a move that infuriated the Religious Right and other anti-abortion groups.
"Today, with the executive order I am about to sign, we will bring the change that so many scientists and researchers, doctors and innovators, patients and loved ones have hoped for, and fought for, these past eight years: We will lift the ban on federal funding for promising embryonic stem-cell research," Obama said. "We will vigorously support scientists who pursue this research. And we will aim for America to lead the world in the discoveries it one day may yield."
On Dec. 2, the National Institutes of Health authorized the first 13 "lines" of stem cells for research. As many as 254 more lines may eventually be approved. …