Obama's Fatherhood Initiative Gets Mixed Response

The Tell Me More audience sounds off following recent interviews with the Rev. Joshua Dubois, who leads the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives and Neighborhood Partnerships, and Rep. David Scott, a Democrat from Georgia who recently reported receiving racially offensive messages following a town hall meeting on health care. Host Michel Martin and digital media producer Lee Hill comb through listener feedback.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And now it's time for Backtalk, where we lift the curtain on what's happening in the TELL ME MORE blogosphere and get a chance to hear from you, our listeners. Lee Hill, our digital media guy, is here with me, as always. Hey, Lee.

LEE HILL: Hey, Michel. I want to focus on two conversations this week that got TELL ME MORE bloggers buzzing. First, the Reverend Joshua Dubois. He leads the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Now, Michel, we invited the Pentecostal minister on the program to discuss one of the signature efforts of his office so far, President Obama's Fatherhood Initiative.

Reverend JOSHUA DUBOIS (White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives and Neighborhood Partnerships): He started this national conversation on responsible fatherhood. It's not all about public policy. It's also about conveying a message of personal responsibility, encouraging dads to get on the right track but also highlighting those organizations and those fathers and those mothers and families who are working to strengthen their communities and learning from them about what works.

HILL: Lots of feedback to this story, Michel, including from those who argue strongly their belief that this kind of government office clearly violates the separation of church and state.

I'll read a note hear from blogger Mark: If anyone needs more proof that Obama and Bush are cut of the same cloth, the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships is it. Mark goes on to write that there is an inherent risk of involving faith instead of compassion.

MARTIN: But we have to say not everybody agreed. Here's a post from blogger Jeremy. He writes: This isn't an endorsement of a particular religion. It's someone being put in charge of an initiative. Churches are great places to organize support for these kinds of things. Being a minister gives him that much more credibility.

Thank you, Jeremy. And Lee, moving on, this week we talked about how the recent town hall meetings on health care are taking a hostile tone. We talked to Georgia Congressman David Scott, who is African-American, following a testy town hall exchange with his constituents. And it isn't clear that everybody was a constituent, by the way. That was one of the issues we talked about.

The congressman found his outdoor office sign vandalized with a swastika painted over the congressional seal. He told us about some of the hate mail he's receiving.

Representative DAVID SCOTT (Democrat, Georgia): And then here's another letter: Congressman David Scott, regarding the government health care legislation - first, you are a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. You are a racist because whites don't have membership. Secondly, you should not be re-elected next year. You're going down to defeat, and any of your colored constituents ain't gonna stop it.

MARTIN: Listeners can read more from the racially charged letters sent to Congressman Scott on our Web site, where a heated online discussion ensued about what many described as a racist undertone at these health care forums.

Here's a post from blogger William: The tired, old defense of racism every time someone disagrees with Obama or his cronies is quickly losing its sting. The only racist message that infected this meeting was from Scott himself.

Lee, any other updates?

HILL: Yes, Michel. Yesterday we learned a New York City policeman who fatally shot another officer in a friendly fire incident will not face criminal charges. A grand jury voted not to indict officer Andrew Dunton in the May 28th shooting of fellow officer Omar Edwards. Now, Dunton, who is white, says he mistook Edwards, a black man, for a criminal.

MARTIN: And Lee, I doubt this is the last we'll hear of this. Black leaders in New York, including the Reverend Al Sharpton, are calling for a new probe into the shooting death of Officer Edwards. Lee, thank you for the update.

HILL: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: And remember, with TELL ME MORE, the conversation never ends. To tell us more, you can call our comment line at 202-842-3522. Please remember to leave your name. You can also log on to our new Web site, where you can read more from fellow listeners and enjoy a simpler social networking experience. Go to npr.org, click on programs then on TELL ME MORE, and blog it out.

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