Faith-Based Programs Shift Focus President Obama launches his faith-based programs today, appointing pastor Josh DuBois to head up operations. The program departs from President Bush's by focusing on family planning and Muslim outreach.
NPR logo

Faith-Based Programs Shift Focus

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Faith-Based Programs Shift Focus

Faith-Based Programs Shift Focus

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is Day to Day. I'm Alex Cohen.


And I'm Madeleine Brand. Coming up, why something so natural - sleeping - can be so complicated. The pros and cons of co-sleeping, sharing a bed with your young children.

COHEN: But first, today, President Barack Obama announced plans to expand and refocus the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives established by President George W. Bush. Speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast, the president said the common ground of his faith-based office will be that all religions teach people to care for one another.

(Soundbite of speech, February 5, 2009)

President BARACK OBAMA: In a world that grows smaller by the day, perhaps we can begin to crowd out the destructive forces of excessive zealotry and make room for the healing power of understanding. This is my hope; this is my prayer.

COHEN: For more, we're joined now by NPR's religion correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty. And Barbara, today's speech was the first time Barack Obama has given any details about his new faith-based office since being elected. How does his vision differ from President Bush's office?

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: Well, you're right. He did give a few details, not very many, though, Alex. First, it's basically going to be the same structure as the old faith-based office, with the faith-based offices in various departments, like the Health and Human Services Department or the Department of Justice. So, that's the same. But he's created a new council that will advise the office. It's going to be 25 people who have a lot of grassroots experience. So, they're going to offer advice on how to tackle issues like poverty. So, it's far more than a faith-based office; it's far more than a faith-based initiative. It's kind of a social-policy initiative.

COHEN: There has been some controversy here over the question of whether religious groups receiving federal money for social services would be able to discriminate in their hiring practices. You've been covering this topic. Did he talk about that at all today?

HAGERTY: No, he didn't. I mean, they - this is really the third rail for them. This plagued the Bush administration's faith-based office for eight years. Basically, Mr. Bush said that religious groups should be able to hire people who believe the same things that they do and fire people if they don't believe the same things they do because their beliefs shape everything they do. Now, that really infuriated a lot of people who said that, if you take government money, you just can't discriminate along those lines. So far, there've been kind of mixed signals by the Obama folks. Last summer, Mr. Obama said he would change the policy to bar hiring - you know, this kind of hiring discrimination. But now, after talking to faith-based groups like World Vision, the White House appears to be having second thoughts about that. So, it's really mixed.

COHEN: One thing we are fairly certain of that's that President Obama will name Joshua DuBois, a 26-year old Pentecostal pastor, to lead this office. Last year, Mr. DuBois appeared on this show. Let's take a listen to what he had to say about the separation of church and state.

(Soundbite of NPR's Day to Day, September 10, 2008)

Mr. JOSHUA DUBOIS (Pentecostal Pastor; Appointee, Director, White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Barack Obama Administration): On the one hand, too many times progressives have failed to acknowledge the role of religion in American life. But on the other side of things, many of our Republican friends, we think, have gone too far in some instances.

COHEN: Barbara, what else you can tell us about Josh DuBois?

HAGERTY: He's really, really young.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COHEN: He's 26.

HAGERTY: He's 26 years old. He's the son of a Pentecostal preacher, and he's apparently a quite good preacher, himself. He went to Boston University when he was 16 years old. And I've been talking to some of his friends. He quickly got attention on campus. You remember when Amadou Diallo was shot by the New York police officers 41 times?


HAGERTY: Well, Joshua drew up a sign that said "no more," and then, went in the middle of BU campus and held a 41-hour vigil for the 41 shots. And this is kind of a preview of his style. He's really, really religious, but he believes that religion should be lived out in action by helping the poor and striving for social justice, things like that. In that, he sounds a lot like Mr. Obama. He joined Barack Obama when he was still a senator, and Joshua DuBois has been with Mr. Obama ever since.

COHEN: And finally, Barbara, besides Josh DuBois, who else would be staffing this new faith-based initiatives office?

HAGERTY: Well, we know a few names on the council, though not all of them. On the conservative side, they have people like Frank Page, who's the former head of the Southern Baptist Convention. He's also got some liberal Evangelicals, Jim Wallace of Sojourners, and also, a man named Joel Hunter who has a mega church in Orlando. And he's trying to reach out to other religions. Rabbi David Saperstein, who's a Reform Jew, will be on it. So, what he's really trying to do is be diverse and inclusive. You know, there is one question I have, though, that's been raised is: Can these groups who are on the council, represented on the council, receive government contracts if their leaders are advising? Joshua DuBois, would that look like favoritism if they received contracts? And I think these are the kinds of things that they're going to work out over - you know, sometime down the road.

COHEN: Barbara Bradley Hagerty is NPR's religion correspondent. Thank you, Barbara.

HAGERTY: You're welcome.

(Soundbite of music)

COHEN: More coming up on Day to Day from NPR News.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.