March 2021 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

President Joe Biden issued an executive order restructuring the White House faith-based initiative Feb. 14.

Under Biden, the office will return to its former name, the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Part­nerships, and will led by Melissa Rogers, a First Amendment lawyer, author, college professor and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Previously, Rogers worked for a number of years for the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty, an AU ally.

A fact sheet issued by the administration states that the office will “work to protect the right to practice faith without fear, implementing promises President-elect Biden made about safeguarding faith communities that are at risk of discrimination, harassment, and hate-based acts of violence and vandalism.”

It added, “Fundamental to these goals is respecting our cherished guarantees of church-state separation and freedom for people of all faiths and none.” It vowed that the office will “not prefer one faith over another or favor religious over secular organizations. Instead, it will work with every willing partner to promote the common good, including those who have differences with the Administration.”

Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United, welcomed the appointment of Rogers, remarking, “Rogers’ mastery of church-state law and policy and her track record of finding shared values make her exceedingly qualified. When she served in the Obama administration, Rogers successfully worked with people across faiths and the nonreligious to adopt policies that protect the religious freedom of people who use federally funded social services.”

Rogers is the author of the 2019 book Faith in American Public Life. In an interview with Church & State in the January 2020 issue, she talked about her support for church-state separation.

“I’m certainly a supporter of church-state separation,” Rogers said. She added, “To me, church-state separation does not mean that religion and government can’t have anything to do with one another. Instead, it means that the two sectors – religion and government – must be meaningfully independent from one another.”

Rogers also discussed her vision of faith-based initiatives.

“During the Obama administration, we added protections for the religious liberty of social service beneficiaries and reformed some other rules in this area.” She noted that President Donald Trump had done away with these protections and expressed her hope to see them restored.