Melissa Rogers is New Director of White House Faith-Based Office

| April 25, 2013

President Obama hits a triple.

Melissa Rogers, a noted consensus-building church-state expert, has been appointed the new director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, succeeding Joshua DuBois, who resigned in February. She was the chair of President Obama’s first Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, where she also directed its taskforce on “Reform of the Office,” which recommended that the President largely maintain the principles of the faith-based initiative as those were developed during the Clinton and Bush administrations. Most recently, Rogers has been the founder and director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University School of Divinity.

Before her Wake Forest and Advisory Council service, she was the executive director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and, earlier, general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

Rogers has been involved in a series of important “common ground” projects designed to foster understanding of and respect for religious freedom across various areas of disagreement. She is notable for advising both government and faith-based organizations, and has been a strong voice reminding faith-based service organizations and churches that religious freedom is intended not narrowly to free them from government accountability but more significantly to enable them to serve God and neighbor with greater faithfulness.

She carries into the White House faith-based office a concern not only with the conditions under which religious organizations can partner with the federal government to provide services but more generally with how the federal government should respect religious freedom when it regulates and legislates in general, including on such matters as the HHS contraceptives mandate, changing definitions of marriage, and reproductive and LGBT rights. It is to the good of society in general, as well as to our nation’s many religious communities and numerous faith-based organizations, and a decision of great credit to President Obama, that he appointed to this strategic office at this time such a stalwart, experienced, and authoritative advocate of religious freedom.

One important caveat: many faith-based organizations will be very uneasy about Rogers’ view that their right to hire on a religious basis should be limited in any program they operate using government funds. Such a universal limit would be unprecedented and would cause many of the government’s current and most-valued service partners to have to walk away. The President, who holds the same position, has refrained so far from making such a drastic and counterproductive change.  Here’s praying that an appreciation for the important work of the government’s religious partners will continue to trump abstract separationist impulses.

The Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance works to preserve a public square that is welcoming to faith-based services, and guard religious freedom in the marketplace. Learn more here:

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About the Author ()

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Email | Website | Stanley Carlson-Thies is the Founder and Senior Director of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance (IRFA), a division of the Center for Public Justice. As part of this role, he convenes the Coalition to Preserve Religious Freedom, a multi-faith alliance of social-service, education, and religious freedom organizations that advocates for the religious freedom of faith-based organizations to Congress and the federal government. In addition he is also a Senior Fellow at the Canadian think tank Cardus. He has served on task forces and initiatives under both President Obama and President George W. Bush. Previously, he was Director of Social Policy Studies for CPJ and directed CPJ’s project to track the implementation and impact of the Charitable Choice provision of the 1996 federal welfare reform law. He received the William Bentley Ball Life and Religious Liberty Defense Award from the Center for Law and Religious Freedom and the Christian Legal Society in October 2004. He holds a doctorate in political science from the University of Toronto. He lives in Annapolis, Maryland, with his wife, Christiane.