Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Faith-Based Issues

President's Council Gets More Members

The White House announced on Monday the names of 10 additional council members who will advise the president on faith-based programs and other key issues, such as fatherhood and poverty.

The new members of the Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships include several people from groups representing minorities, including Dalia Mogahed, executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies; Anju Bhargava, founder of Asian Indian Women in America; and Harry Knox, head of the religion program at the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for gays and lesbians.

Other new members are Anthony Picarello, formerly of the religious liberties law firm Becket Fund and now general counsel to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Rev. Peg Chemberlin, president-elect of the National Council of Churches, an ecumenical umbrella group of mostly mainline Protestants.

The additions bring the council's ranks to 25 religious and secular leaders. Each will serve a one-year term as part of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

The office, which was created by President George W. Bush, is meant primarily to support faith-based groups, including by helping them get government funding or access to legal guidance about church-state boundaries. Under President Obama, it has laid out several priorities including interfaith relations, abortion reduction and improving the environment.

The council had its first meeting Monday. The first 15 members had been part of a meet-and-greet, but Monday the full council heard from government staffers about priority areas and gave feedback.

-- Michelle Boorstein

First Lady Back in U.S.

An Early Return

ANKARA, Turkey -- President Obama's European adventure continues, but his wife decided to get off the ride.

Michelle Obama flew back to the United States on Sunday, departing Prague in the afternoon and arriving at Andrews Air Force Base by 7:30 p.m., aides said.

White House officials say she wanted to get back in time to start her daughters' school week. They said she felt she had already been away from the two for a long time.

Obama had her own hectic schedule in Europe while her husband conducted government business. She visited a school for girls, attended ballet performances, met the Queen of England and toured the old city in Prague.

Her early departure meant she was missing the Turkey portion of the trip, which would have taken her to Ankara and Istanbul.

-- Michael D. Shear

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