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Tony Dungy (Associated Press/Photo by Michael Conroy)

Final Faith-based advisers named

Religion | President Obama's Advisory Council for the Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Office will not include Tony Dungy

WASHINGTON-The White House announced Monday nine new members of its Advisory Council for the Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Office, completing the 25-member panel, but former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, who was invited to join last week (see "Fifth quarter") was not one of them.

Dungy apparently declined because of schedule conflicts.

Conservative Christian groups like the Family Research Council had lauded Dungy's choice for the White House council, but gay rights groups had condemned the invitation because of the former coach's support for a ban on same-sex marriage in Indiana.

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While Dungy declined, an activist for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights accepted: Harry Knox, representing the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign.

Another new addition to the council, Sharon Watkins, was the first woman to deliver the sermon at the National Prayer Service following a presidential inauguration. In her sermon, Watkins cited an old Cherokee folk tale, the book of Isaiah, and Muslim scholars in her call to work for "the common good."

Other new members named represent Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups.

Anthony Picarello, one of the newly announced advisers who is Christian, currently serves as general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Previously he worked at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, where he litigated religious freedom cases. Picarello may be a strong conservative voice on issues of religious freedom and conscientious objections, which are already under debate in the Obama administration. In switching from the practices of the Bush administration to this administration, members of the council will consider issues such as the separation of church and state in federally funded faith-based initiatives-whether to allow faith-based hiring and faith expressions in federally funded services. (See "Faith-based quandary.")

The Advisory Council, however, has no power to enact policy in the Obama administration. The president and his Faith-based Office staff, headed by Joshua DuBois, will make those final decisions.

In addition to Knox, Watkins, and Picarello, the new members of the council are Anju Bhargava, founder, Asian Indian Women of America; Bishop Charles Blake, presiding bishop, Church of God in Christ; the Rev. Peg Chemberlin, president-elect, National Council of Churches USA; Nathan Diament, director of public policy, Orthodox Jewish Union; Dalia Mogahed, executive director, Gallup Center for Muslim Studies; and Nancy Ratzan, board chair, National Council of Jewish Women.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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