- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 10, 2009

Not long ago at a meeting of the nation’s religion writers in Minneapolis, reporters were seething about a particular no-show.

President Obama’s point man on religion, Joshua DuBois, had been slated for months to address journalists about “Faith and Politics in the Obama White House.” He had given every indication of coming, so the Religion Newswriters Association (RNA) included his photo in the conference program. Then, with less than two weeks to go before his Sept. 10 appearance, he suddenly became unavailable - a move widely seen as a cancellation among RNA members..

Instead, he was in Memphis, Tenn., that day, speaking to the National Baptist Convention. Mr. DuBois told me that he had not confirmed he was coming, which was news to the RNA. I organized two of their other panels, and we had to have names in and panelists confirmed by late spring.

He also said he offered to come later than his scheduled time but the RNA declined. That’s not the story I heard in Minneapolis, where the RNA had to scramble to bring in substitute speakers - definitely a hardship for an organization that’s scraping for funds.

(I might add that the substitute panelists gave some delicious quotes about the Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, to which two of them belong and which Mr. DuBois heads. When one reporter asked about the council’s purpose, “We’re just making it up as we go along,” a panelist told her).

Later, I asked one of the organizers why they didn’t publicly chastise Mr. DuBois. The response: They need him as a source and could not afford to alienate him. And so the president’s religion guru gets treated with kid gloves.

Reporters from across the country have been trying to land substantive one-on-ones all year with Mr. DuBois, a charming individual who has a reputation for dodging hard questions. The religious press, such as Christianity Today and the Christian Broadcasting Network, have gotten the best access. Reporters with secular publications got to listen in when he appeared on a Pew Forum panel in June but little was said we didn’t already know.

The best interview to date has been Krista Tippett’s May 28 live broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio. But even there, Mr. DuBois was evasive about the question everyone has been asking: Whether President Obama will keep his campaign promise to bar religious groups that receive federal funding from hiring only members of their own religion and from rejecting applicants - such as homosexuals - who live in ways contrary to the dictates of these religions.

Mr. DuBois tells every interviewer that the Obama administration will deal with problem hires “on a case-to-case basis.” When Ms. Tippett asked him whether they’ve dealt with any cases yet, he said no; his office was still getting its e-mail straightened out and had yet to get stationery.

This is not what Mr. Obama promised in July 2008 in Zanesville, Ohio. This seeming shift has frustrated liberal groups to no end. “We haven’t gotten the answer we’d like to hear yet,” Joe Conn of Americans United told me.

Hopefully, Mr. DuBois’ office now has stationery.

For the record, I and one of our White House reporters have been trying to get a sit-down since last winter. We’ve been told all requests for an interview had to go through the White House press office. Then they would not schedule it.

We’re not sure they ever will.

Julia Duin’s Stairway to Heaven column runs on Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at jduin@washingtontimes.com.

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