The governor's faith-based executive job placement service

Last month, Governor Tim Pawlenty signed an executive order establishing a Governor's Council on Faith and Community Services. Two days ago, he announced his pick to head the agency: Northwest Airlines director of labor relations Lee Buckley.

It's no mystery why Buckley would take the job. At NWA, she was employed by a bankrupt company with an uncertain future and horrid relations with its employees. Dishing out government grants to church groups must seem like a relief by comparison. And while the $85,000 salary undoubtedly constitutes a pay cut, Buckley's new job is not without a big perk: she probaby doesn't need to worry about being cornered by a mob of pissed-off airplane mechanics anymore.

Pawlenty's insistence on pushing his faith-based agenda is the more puzzling aspect of the equation. Why now? As a savvy politician, Pawlenty must realize that this isn't the best time to sound like George W. Bush.

Last spring, the governor's faith office proposal faltered before the legislature. That is why he was forced to create the program via executive order. But because the legislature did not appropriate any money, the funding comes directly from Pawlenty's budget. As it turns out, that has led to some cost savings: According to Pawlenty spokesman Jeff Falk, the council's budget was cut from an initial proposal of $300,000 a year to $175,000.

Meanwhile, larger questions still persist about the constitutionality of faith-oriented government offices. Last year, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, sued the Bush adminstration over the creation of the White Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives on the grounds that it violated the establishment clause. That case is still pending in federal court.

According to FFRF founder Annie Laurie Gaylor, there haven't been any challenges to state level faith offices. However, Gaylor says her group plans to bring a suit by the end of the year. There are about 20 states with faith offices nationwide.

Told of Pawlenty's remarks that faith-based organizations could "touch hearts" better than "government bureaucrats," Gaylor bristled. "There is not one shred of evidence that religious groups solve problems better than government groups," she said. "Our government has the potential to do anything it wants to. To fob it off on religion while you're cutting social services is hypocritical."

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