Despite all the nice invitations to nonbelievers, President Obama's new effort to push government-sponsored religious community service expands on a bad idea. This administration may be open to atheists and minority faith traditions, but don't forget the last administration. George W. Bush established the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and made sure that nearly all the funds went to good Christian charities, some of which allowed tax dollars to pair religious indoctrination with community service. If we support the program that invites our participation today, will we be simultaneously lending credibility to the program that rejects us tomorrow?
In conclusion, I find myself sympathetic to both these seemingly contradictory perspectives. Those who choose to participate in interfaith efforts are resilient humanists, enduring a real slight in order to promote the positive image of atheists and freethinkers while simultaneously helping wider communities. Those who abstain from working within interfaith initiatives are persons of principle who find it intolerable to operate under a rejected label. Whatever one believes, we should all work toward a society of peaceful, mutual cooperation. That will help us reach a time when nontheists need not labor for the common good under "interfaith" organizations, when a person's religious faith is incidental to their status as a humanitarian, when people can simply do good, with or without a god.