Obama with Cardinal Egan. The White House Office of Faith-Based Partnerships has drawn criticism for blurring the line separating church and state
Washington – US President Barack Obama on Thursday reached out to believers of all faiths as he expanded the White House office of faith-based partnerships. Speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, Obama acknowledged differences among religions, but stressed the common beliefs of all faiths to care for others.
“Instead of driving us apart, our varied beliefs can bring us together to feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted; to make peace where there is strife and rebuild what has broken; to lift up those who have fallen on hard times,” he said.
“This is not only our call as people of faith, but our duty as citizens of America, and it will be the purpose of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighbourhood Partnerships that I’m announcing later today.”
Former president George W Bush created a White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives that helped religious groups seek grants to provide social services. Obama, who signed an order later Thursday creating his own programme, is expected to keep a similar structure. He has also created a council of religious advisors from various backgrounds to provide input on policy.
The office has drawn criticism for blurring the line separating church and state, but Obama insisted his work would not favour religious groups over secular ones but simply allow all organizations to provide services to their communities.
Obama made an effort during his election campaign to reach out to religious groups, even designating staff specifically to the task. He faced controversies, however, over inflammatory statements made by his then-pastor and rumours that he was a Muslim.
At the breakfast, Obama outlined his religious journey as the child of a Muslim father who became an atheist and non-religious mother, and how he became a Christian as an adult while working with disadvantaged residents in Chicago.
The breakfast draws thousands, including many legislators and religious leaders, each year. Former British prime minister Tony Blair gave the key note address, speaking of religion’s attack from extremists within and non-believers.
Haitian President Rene Preval, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and Mauritius Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam also attended.