Commenting on a White House staff-level meeting with leaders of atheist groups, Sean Hannity claimed that religious groups "have not received this treatment from the Obama White House." In fact, President Obama himself has met with numerous religious leaders, and the administration's contacts with religious groups include two days of meetings between administration staffers and more than 60 religious leaders.
From the February 26 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
HANNITY: The Obama administration earlier today rolled out the red carpet for a coalition of atheist groups. Now, among the individuals in attendance was Michael Newdow. That's the California man who sued unsuccessfully to have the words "under God" removed from the Pledge of Allegiance. Now, religious groups, however, have not received this kind of treatment from the Obama White House. Now, last year, the President distanced himself from the National Day of Prayer, cancelling the formal service traditionally held in honor of the day and refusing to attend a Catholic prayer breakfast. So what's going on? Has the administration demonstrated a pattern of hostility towards religion, or is this merely a coincidence?
Feb. 26: Secular Coalition of America leaders meet with Obama admin. officials
McClatchy: Secular Coalition met with Obama staff. On February 26, McClatchy Newspapers reported that leaders from the Secular Coalition for America met "with Obama administration officials from the public engagement office of the White House and from the departments of Justice, Health and Human Services and Defense" and that "President Obama -- as expected -- did not make an appearance." Prior to the meeting, McClatchy also reported on the scheduled meeting:
The president isn't expected to make an appearance at the meeting with the Secular Coalition for America or to unveil any new policy as a result of it.
Instead, several administration officials will sit down quietly for a morning meeting at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House campus with about 60 workhorses from the coalition's 10 member groups, including the American Atheists and the Council for Secular Humanism. Tina Tchen, the director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, and representatives from the Justice and Health and Human Services departments will participate.
Coalition leaders are billing their visit as an important meeting between a presidential administration and the "nontheist" community. On the agenda are three policy areas: child medical neglect, military proselytizing and faith-based initiatives.
Obama has personally met with various religious leaders, groups
Obama has met with Pope Benedict, Dalai Lama, Mormon president, and Jewish leaders. On July 10, 2009, Obama met with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican. Obama similarly hosted separate White House meeting with a group of more than 16 Jewish leaders, including two rabbis; Mormon leaders, including Thomas S. Monson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and the Dalai Lama.
Obama White House hosted health care conference call with religious leaders. Obama spoke during an August 19, 2009 conference call organized by a "coalition of more than 30 faith-based groups" to discuss health care reform. The conference call reportedly included "at least 25 faith leaders -- from evangelical Christian, Jewish, Muslim and other religious traditions."
Obama spoke at February 4 National Prayer Breakfast. At the February 4 National Prayer Breakfast, Obama spoke in front of "an array of religious leaders."
White House office devoted in part to faith-based outreach
WH Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnership exists to "build bridges between the federal government and nonprofit organizations, both secular and faith-based." The White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnership (OFBNP) states that its purpose is to "form partnerships between government at all levels and non-profit organizations, both secular and faith-based, to more effectively serve Americans in need."
Faith-based Advisory Council includes many religious leaders. As part of the OFBNP, the President's Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, is comprised of 25 leaders from religious and secular organizations. The group has created six task forces to identify the best practices for delivering social services and making recommendations for improving implementation and coordination of government policies related to faith-based and neighborhood organization, and will be releasing its final recommendations in March. The group includes Bishop Charles R. Blake, presiding bishop of the Church of God in Christ; Rev. Peg Chemberlin, President of the National Council of Churches; Dr. Joel Hunter, senior pastor at Northland, a Church Distributed; Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, bishop of the Thirteenth Episcopal District, African Methodist Episcopal Church; Rev. Otis Moss Jr., pastor emeritus of Oliviet Institutional Baptist Church; Dr. Frank Page, pastor at Taylors First Baptist Church and president emeritus of the Southern Baptist Convention; Rabbi David Saperstein, director and counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Rev. William J. Shaw, president of the National Baptist Convention; and Rev. Larry J. Snyder, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA.
Religious leaders repeatedly consulted by White House officials
Politico: "[R]eligious leaders meet with White House policymakers on a regular basis." On June 9, 2009, Politico reported:
Also, religious leaders meet with White House policymakers on a regular basis - and help to shape decisions on matters large and small. A White House speechwriter working on Obama's Egypt speech called several faith leaders to get their thoughts. After the White House unveiled its budget in April, officials convened a two-hour conference call with religious leaders to discuss how the spending plan would help the poor.
Two-day series of OFBNP briefings in April 2009 hosted more than 60 religious leaders. An April 9, 2009, Time article reported:
Over the course of two days, the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships gathered more than 60 religious leaders (and a handful of secular non-profits) at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building for the first in what director Joshua Dubois says will be a series of briefings.
Throughout the two days, council members -- as well as approximately 40 additional religious leaders who were invited to attend the sessions -- sat through briefings by Administration officials on topics ranging from education reform and childhood hunger to energy policy. In a town where "religious issues" are often thought to be limited to hot-button social concerns like abortion and gay marriage, the wide array of information was welcomed by many of those gathered. "This shows us that none of our faiths disqualify us from being concerned about the issues facing our country," said Vashti McKenzie, a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal church. She added, "We've heard from candidates before elections -- thank you for coming to us after the election is over."
Coalition of clergy members opposed to torture met with administration officials. On June 11, 2009, 33 religious leaders belonging to the National Religious Campaign Against Torture met with "senior Obama administration officials" to discuss the group's call for the "establishment of an independent, non-partisan Commission of Inquiry to investigate the development and implementation of a program of torture by the United States in the years after 9/11."
White House speechwriter reportedly consulted with religious leaders in preparing for Obama's speech in Egypt. On June 3, 2009, US News & World Report reported:
In preparing for the president's speech tomorrow from Cairo, the White House did something it hasn't previously in preparing Obama to engage Muslims abroad: It called on American religious leaders and experts, including many Muslims, for advice.
In a conference call last month, Obama's foreign policy speechwriter, Ben Rhodes, and aides in the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships took input from Muslim, Christian, and Jewish figures concerning what the president should say in Cairo. "The White House did a very good job at taking advantage of the available expertise," says Dalia Mogahed, executive director of Gallup's Center for Muslim Studies, who participated in the call.