Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Tempered Praise for New Director of White House Faith-Based Office

Stanley Carlson-Thies


March 22, 2013

By Stanley Carlson-Thies

An earlier version of this article was published in the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance eNewsletter for Faith-Based Organizations on March 13, 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 Health and Human Services (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 such a stalwart, experienced and authoritative advocate of religious freedom to this strategic office at this time..

One very important caution: faith-based organizations should be very uneasy about Rogers' view that their right to hire on a religious basis must be taken away in any program they operate using government funds. There has never been a universal federal rule like that, and it would force many of the government's current and most-valued service partners to break their relationship. The president, who holds the same position as Rogers, 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.  

—Stanley Carlson-Thies is president and founder of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance. He served on the “Reform of the Office” task force of President Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and on the founding staff of President George W. Bush's White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.  He also serves as a Fellow of the Center for Public Justice. 

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”