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White House expands faith-based advisory panel

Eric Gorski | 4/16/2009, 12:19 a.m.

A Pentecostal bishop who has challenged Democrats on abortion and a representative of a national gay rights group are among nine new members of a White House advisory council.

President Barack Obama has announced the appointments of Bishop Charles E. Blake and Harry Knox on Mon. Aril 13, filling out a 25-person roster that is part of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy declined an invitation, citing scheduling conflicts, a White House spokesman said. Dungy will still advise Obama on fatherhood issues and help lead that effort, the spokesman said.

Dungy, an evangelical Christian, supported efforts in Indiana to ban same-sex marriage in 2007, prompting some criticism from liberal groups last week when the invitation was made public.

Blake serves as presiding bishop of the Church of God in Christ, a predominantly black Pentecostal denomination with some six million members. At a Democratic National Convention interfaith service, Blake scolded those who show "disregard for the lives of the unborn" and challenged Obama to adopt policies to reduce abortions.
Also newly appointed to the panel was Harry Knox, director of the religion and faith program at Human Rights Campaign, a Washington-based gay rights group. Obama was criticized by liberal and gay rights groups for inviting evangelical pastor and author Rick Warren - who supported a California ballot measure that banned gay marriage in that state - to deliver the inaugural invocation.

The White House office enlists faith and community groups to address four priorities: economic recovery, reducing abortions, encouraging responsible fatherhood and improving interfaith relations. An expanded and tweaked version of a faith-based office begun by President George W. Bush, the office is charged with administering federal grants and advising the White House on policy.