Obama appoints Indian American in interfaith council

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : President Barack Obama has included an Indian American in a revamped White House office for faith-based and neighbourhood programmes, expanding an initiative started by the Bush administration to support charitable organisations delivering social services.

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Indian American Eboo S. Patel, founder and executive director of the Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Corps, was named to a 25-member President’s Advisory Council composed of religious leaders and scholars from different backgrounds.

“No matter how much money we invest or how sensibly we design our policies, the change that Americans are looking for will not come from government alone,” Obama said, creating the new office by executive order. “There is a force for good greater than government.”

While at home it will focus on making community groups an integral part of US economic recovery as its top priority, beyond American shores the new office will work with the National Security Council to “foster interfaith dialogue with leaders and scholars around the world”.

The revamped office will work on behalf of Americans committed to improving their communities, no matter their religious or political beliefs, Obama said.

“It is an expression of faith, this yearning to give back, this hungering for a purpose larger than our own, that reveals itself not simply in places of worship, but in senior centres and shelters, schools and hospitals, and any place an American decides.”

The new office “will be a resource for nonprofits and community organisations, both secular and faith based, looking for ways to make a bigger impact in their communities, learn their obligations under the law, cut through red tape, and make the most of what the federal government has to offer”.

Headed by Joshua DuBois, a former associate pastor and advisor to Obama in his US Senate office and campaign director of religious affairs, the office will carry out its priorities upholding the principle of “the separation of church and state”.

The revamped office has reignited a contentious debate over whether religious organisations that accept funds from the government should be allowed to discriminate when hiring.

Obama’s executive order does not rescind Bush’s provision to allow faith-based groups to discriminate in their hiring practices, but does provide a legal process for organisations to go through in order to that ensure hiring is legal and non-discriminatory.