By Kathleen Gilbert

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 14, 2010 ( – President Obama's faith council came to no clear conclusion after an impassioned debate on whether religious organizations receiving federal funds should be required to cover or remove religious symbols in service areas, reported Washington Post religion writer William Wan Tuesday.

The council discussed the matter in a two-hour teleconference Monday, as it finalizes a draft report this week.

The members on the teleconference also chose Melissa Rogers, the director of Wake Forest University School of Divinity's Center for Religion and Public Affairs, as the faith council's official chairwoman.  Rogers is considered an expert in legal issues pertaining to the separation of church and state.

Wan reports that Rogers offered three possible recommendations for the council regarding religious images for federally-funded groups: the icons could be disallowed; allowed only if no other religious neutral rooms are available and covering up such icons is impractical; or allowed with encouragement that organizations be “sensitive about the issue.” 

Catholic League president Bill Donohue said that the fact the council even had the debate “just tells us volumes.”

“This is consistent with the animus against religion that we've seen from the beginning with this administration,” Donohue told (LSN) Friday.  The leading Catholic watchdog called to mind an incident in April when, per White House request, Georgetown University covered up a plaque with a cross and a symbol for the name of Jesus that would have appeared over Obama's head during a speech there.

Donohue called on the administration to close down the faith office whose purpose, he said, has been radically altered from the original vision of the Bush administration.

“We're talking about people who are charged with faith-based initiatives, to implement them – and their central concern is not how they can facilitate service to the dispossessed stemming from faith groups, their concern is how can they shield the bigots in our society from religious iconography?” he asked.

“This is worse than just simply an insult, they're a fraud – because they're posing as though they are the friends of faith-based programs, when in fact they're not.”

Donohue said he wasn't sure of how much impact the directive might be expected to have on institutions such as Catholic universities, which usually receive federal funds – but said the debate betrayed a consistent motive in the Obama administration “to neuter the public expression of religion.”  

“When they hear 'religion,' they think 'church and state,' they think 'the separation of,' – they think how we can limit freedom as opposed to expanding freedom,” he said.  “The whole thing is so utterly twisted.”

See related coverage:

After Another Church-Less Christmas, Coalition Asks: Is Obama a Christian Fraud?

White House “Comfortable” With Anti-Catholic Homosexual Activist on Faith Counsel

Controversy after Georgetown U. Covers Name of Jesus for Obama Speech at White House's Request