(Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
President Barack Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships has been inactive since March 2010.
While the administration has been embroiled in a controversy over a mandate that would require some religious groups to purchase health insurance that provides contraception, sterilization and abortifacient coverage in opposition to their religious beliefs, a council designed to provide the president guidance on religious issues has been nonexistent.
Several members of the disbanded council signed a private letter to the president expressing disappointment in the birth-control mandate, according to Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown.
The first council issued a 176-page report of recommendations for the president in March 2010. A new council was supposed to be appointed each year. The council's website, though, does not appear to have been updated since that last report was issued. It states, "The next council will be appointed in late Spring 2010."
The council cannot meet until all 25 members have been appointed and approved by the Senate. Obama named 12 new members in February 2011, according to Brown, and he remains committed to naming a new council.
The Advisory Council was announced by Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast in November 2009. It was seen as part of a strategy by the Democrats to close the "God gap," or the perception that Republicans do a better job than Democrats at speaking to the concerns of those with high levels of religiosity.
The accusation that Obama is hostile toward religious people and institutions has been particularly pronounced recently. Besides his birth-control mandate, the Justice Department also opposed a religious group that argued in court for the right to hire or fire whom they wish to teach religion classes. That case went the Supreme Court, which decided unanimously in favor of the religious group.
Presidential candidate Rick Santorum has accused Obama of not doing enough to support religious freedom abroad, and said his environmental policy amounted to a "phony theology."
Brown interviewed several former council members, but none knew why it is taking such a long time to form a new council. The Christian Post contacted two former members, but neither has returned our calls.
The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and an adviser to the first council, called it "the mysterious, disappearing faith-based council."