The White House:
Religion and Presidential Initiatives
Within two weeks of taking office, President Obama launched his first major initiative concerning religion with the creation of a White House Office on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Four month later, he gave a speech in Egypt in an effort to initiate a new, more cooperative phase in America’s relations with the Muslim world. In the succeeding years, the intersection of religion and policy has been a recurring theme in the Obama White House.
- Promoting Interfaith Partnerships
In February 2009, President Obama signed an executive order creating a White House Office on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The office coordinates 12 government agencies to develop partnerships between the government and religious and community groups. The President also established a White House Advisory Council to provide recommendations on how to strengthen such partnerships.
- President Obama’s “New Beginning” with the Muslim World
In June 2009, President Obama addressed an audience of thousands at Cairo University in the Egyptian capital. During his Cairo Speech, carried live throughout much of the Middle East, the President called for “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”
- White House Strategy to Counter Violent Extremism
In 2011, the White House released a series of documents outlining its strategy for countering violent extremism and terrorism at home and abroad.
- National Strategy for Counterterrorism
- Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism
- Strategic Implementation Plan for Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism
The overall approach seeks to counter violent extremists, including al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups that define themselves in religious terms, while embracing religious diversity and avoiding criticism of Islam or America’s Muslim citizens.
- Interfaith Service Challenge on College Campuses Nationwide:
In March 2011, the White House announced the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, an initiative to advance interfaith and community service in colleges and universities across the nation.
- Health Insurance and Religious Exemptions
In January 2012, the Obama administration announced that many religious organizations would be required, like their secular counterparts, to offer their employees access to health insurance plans that cover birth control for women. The resulting controversy, pitting many religious organizations against women’s rights advocates and liberal religious groups, continues despite a compromise announced by the White House a few weeks later.
- "Together for Tomorrow" School Improvement Challenge
In February 2012, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, in cooperation with the Department of Education and the Corporation for National and Community Service, launched the Together for Tomorrow program. This initiative promotes efforts by faith-based and secular community-improvement groups to strengthen low-performing schools, with a specific focus on measurable improvements in student attendance, behavior, academic performance, and access to college.