The president of the Catholic League and long time critic of the Secular Coalition for America, Bill Donohue, commented on our Coalition’s recent meeting with the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Normally we just ignore Bill’s comments but we have to give credit where credit is due. Sure, he falsely claimed Christian nationalism is an atheist invention and bemoaned that our Coalition is not “religion friendly” (Bill, please tell us when the Catholic Church is atheist friendly…), but our critic does get something right about the White House’s faith-based office: there really is no need for it.
The fact that the office no longer prioritizes faith-based programs and organizations, which Mr. Donohue admits was the whole point of the office under the Bush administration is the reason why we actually agree with the president of the Catholic League.
In an increasingly secular country, religion no longer holds a monopoly on providing social services. There are many secular and explicitly nontheist organizations that provide services for their communities. A good example of this can be seen through our Coalition’s Secular Week of Action which just took place a few weeks ago, when nontheist and secular communities across the country came together to work in their communities with a focus on addressing homelessness and food insecurity.
We fully acknowledge that religious organizations have the infrastructure in place for robust social service operations that serve vital needs across the country, thanks in part to the government’s reliance on them over the years. These organizations can be valuable partners for policy makers. For example, engaging with clergy has been instrumental at decreasing vaccine hesitancy in this stage of the pandemic. Mr. Donohue unfortunately thinks we should segregate religious and secular communities when undertaking these initiatives, giving religious organizations a specific office just for them and then relegating secular organizations to general domestic policy. As previously described, this vision is remarkably outdated.
Right now all we are asking for is to be included and listened to with respect, which the Biden-Harris administration has been willing to do thus far. And following our productive meeting last Friday, we’re looking forward to further collaboration with this office but we also see room for growth. By doing away with the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships in favor of a secular and pluralistic “Office of Neighborhood Partnerships”, the White House’s actions would better reflect our constitution and our country.
Mr. Donohue prefers the old segregated way of doing things but America’s neighborhoods are diverse. They are made up of people of all religions and beliefs, including atheists, agnostics and humanists. Organizations, religious and secular, are providing for their communities. There is no longer a need for a faith-based office that ignores these facts. We can all be good neighbors and good partners, regardless of religious affiliation, while maintaining the constitutional value of secularism.
By Andrew McCarty Grossen
Communications Manager, Secular Coalition for America