Catholic League head denounces White House faith-based partnership office's meeting with atheist groups

White House
A general view of the White House in Washington in this September 30, 2013, file photo. |

Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights President and CEO Bill Donohue recently denounced a White House meeting with atheist and secular organizations who he claims have an agenda driven by "anti-religion politics."

The White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships held a meeting last week with six non-religious advocacy groups. Those groups included the American Atheists, American Humanist Association, Center for Inquiry, Ex-Muslims of North America, the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Secular Coalition for America.

In an opinion column published Monday by CNS News, Donohue took issue with the White House meeting, arguing that the Biden administration was catering to anti-religious groups.

“It would be one thing if White House staffers in domestic policy or civil rights invited representatives of these six organizations to discuss their concerns; it is quite another when those who purport to work with people of faith do so,” argued Donohue.

“None of them are religion-friendly and some are positively militant in their agenda. They expressed their displeasure with the pro-religious liberty policies of the Trump administration, accusing it of fomenting ‘Christian nationalism.’ The creation of this fiction is central to the anti-religion politics that drives these groups.”

Donohue contends that the meeting is a byproduct of President Joe Biden’s executive order from February, which created the faith-based initiative office.

Specifically, Donohue quoted the fact Sheet released with the order stipulating that the office “will not prefer one faith over another or favor religious over secular organizations.”

“But the whole point of creating an office of faith-based programs was to prioritize religious social service agencies,” Donohue argued. 

“If the Biden administration is going to manipulate the founding purpose of faith-based initiatives by welcoming the advice of militant secularists, it should do us all a favor and simply trash this office.”

Rob Boston of the advocacy group Americans United for Separation of Church & State critiqued the Donohue column. Boston argued that although "the office absolutely does work with faith-based organizations, that’s not its entire mandate."

"At a time when growing numbers of Americans are identifying as 'nones' and others are embracing a secular outlook, it just makes sense to include these groups," wrote Boston. 

"Donohue is a typical religious extremist who believes the answers to all of life’s thorny questions can be found in the narrow segment of religiosity he chooses to embrace."

According to a statement from the Secular Coalition for America, the meeting with the White House office last Friday was “productive." During the meeting, the secular groups expressed their concerns about lingering policies from the Trump administration.

“In this meeting, which we hope was the first of many, we encouraged the White House to continue engaging with organizations representing nonreligious Americans at the national level as well as local secular organizations across the country, in the same ways as they do with religious organizations,” stated the Coalition.

“By participating in this meeting, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships displayed that they’re open to embracing pluralism, diversity of thought, and the secular community.”

As with the past few presidential administrations, Biden created the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships soon after taking office. 

“From COVID-19 to the economic crisis, we’re facing enormous challenges — and faith-based and community organizations are essential to addressing them,” tweeted Biden at the time.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which often pressures government agencies and school districts nationwide to end any conceived endorsement of religion, initially criticized Biden's decision to reinstate the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. 

FFRF claimed that the office is "unconstitutional" and has been "abused to reward churches that support political candidates, among other things." It called on Biden to "abolish" the office.

"Christian organizations have been given high preference under previous administrations," FFRF claimed in a February statement.

FFRF group filed a lawsuit against George W. Bush's version of the office, a case that went to the Supreme Court in 2007.

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