His faith under attack, his contraception decision savaged on all sides, President Barack Obama could use backup in the religious community right now.
But three years into his presidency, Obama’s marquee council of faith advisers has gone dark — a little-noticed postscript for a panel that he rolled out with fanfare and high expectations during his first weeks in office but ended up playing only a limited role in West Wing deliberations.
The president’s first Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships delivered a 163-page report in March 2010 and then disbanded. The second council has waited more than a year for a full slate of appointees and has yet to meet. And the hottest issue — whether religious groups that receive public money can discriminate in hiring — remains unresolved more than three years after Obama promised to address it.
“It’s the mysterious, disappearing faith-based council,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who advised the first council.
The extended hiatus has suddenly become more glaring as the issue of faith, an undercurrent of the 2008 campaign, makes a fierce and early appearance in the 2012 race.
Obama ignited the furor last month when he decided to mandate that religious-affiliated employers provide their workers with free birth control coverage. Since then, the attacks from his Republican challengers have been relentless: Rick Santorum accused Obama of practicing a “phony theology,” Mitt Romney claimed the president has “fought against religion” and Newt Gingrich alleged that the administration is “engaged in a war on religion.”