Obama: My faith-based office won't show any favoritism
Agence France-Presse
Published: Thursday February 5, 2009

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WASHINGTON (AFP) President Barack Obama warned Thursday that religion must not be hijacked by hate and intolerance, as he announced an overhaul of the former Bush administration's faith-based initiatives.

The new Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships is expected to advise the new president on domestic and foreign policy issues and to forge links with faith-based organizations overseas.

"The goal of this office will not be to favor one religious group over another -- or even religious groups over secular groups," the president said in a speech at the annual National Prayer Breakfast.

"It will simply be to work on behalf of those organizations that want to work on behalf of our communities, and to do so without blurring the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state."

Obama traces his own religious awakening to his days working as a community worker in Chicago and said that both secular and faith groups working to improve people's lives were vital in the deep economic recession.

"Few are closer to what's happening on our streets and in our neighborhoods than these organizations, people trust them, communities rely on them and we will help them."

Obama was set to sign an executive order in the Oval Office formally forming the advisory council later on Thursday.

He warned however that religion was often used to divide people, or as the cause of human discord or wars.

"Far too often, we have seen faith wielded as a tool to divide us from one another as an excuse for prejudice and intolerance," Obama.

"Wars have been waged, innocents have been slaughtered. For centuries, entire religions have been persecuted, all in the name of perceived righteousness."

As well as mentioning worshippers of all faiths, Obama, a Christian, also mentioned those who subscribe to no faith at all, as he did in his inaugural address two weeks ago.

Critics complained that former president George W. Bush improperly entwined the federal government with his own deeply held religious faith, threatening the separation of church and state enshrined in the constitution.

Bush's office of faith-based initiatives was set up to help religious and community groups carry out social projects with federal government funds.

The White House was expected to release further details of Obama's plans later on Thursday.

This video is from ABCNews.com, broadcast Feb. 5, 2009.

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