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Biden Reopens Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships

White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships was re-established via executive order by President Joseph Biden and two players who know the terrain were brought back to run the operation.

Melissa Rogers was appointed executive director and as senior director for Faith and Public Policy in the White House Domestic Policy Council. Josh Dickson will be deputy director. Dickson was national faith engagement director for Biden for President, and was director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the Department of Commerce during the Obama-Biden Administration.

Trey Baker, who previously served as the national director of African American Engagement for Biden for President and currently is a White House Senior Advisor for Public Engagement, will serve as the office’s liaison to Black communities, including Black faith communities.

President George W. Bush established what was to become the first White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in 2001. The White House announcement quoted the former president as saying government cannot be replaced by the efforts of religious and other community organizations, but government “can and should welcome [such organizations] as partners.”

Bush’s Executive Order 13198 created five Centers for Faith-Based & Community Initiatives on Jan. 29, 2001. Executive Order 13280 created two Centers for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives on Dec. 12, 2002. Executive Order 13199 created the White House Office of Faith-Based & Community Initiatives on Jan. 29, 2001.

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The Obama-Biden administration continued the initiative in 2009. According to the text of the new executive order, the office helped prevent foreclosure amidst the housing crisis by sharing information with more than 50,000 faith-based and community stakeholders on mortgage refinancing and scam prevention; increase the number of summer meals served to kids for a total of more than 1.2 billion meals; assist communities in responding to and recovering from disasters; and, train diverse faith leaders on protecting their houses of worship.

The initiative was discontinued under the administration of former President Donald Trump.

Specifically, the new White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships say they will work with civil society partners to:

* Address the Covid-19 Pandemic and Boost Economic Recovery;

* Combat Systemic Racism;

* Increase Opportunity and Mobility for Historically Disadvantaged Communities;

* Advance International Development and Global Humanitarian Work; and,

* Strengthen Pluralism and Respect Constitutional Guarantees.

The text of the executive order refers to the fire walls between government and religion. It reads, in part, “Fundamental to these goals is respecting our cherished guarantees of church-state separation and freedom for people of all faiths and none, as the executive order notes. The Partnerships Office, for example, 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.”

According to her biography on the Brookings Institute website, Rogers is a visiting professor at Wake Forest University Divinity School and is a non-resident senior fellow in Governance Studies. From 2013-2017, she served as special assistant to President Barack Obama and was executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. She previously served as chair of the inaugural Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Prior to that she was director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University Divinity School. She has also served as executive director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. Her area of expertise includes the First Amendment’s religion clauses, religion in American public life, and the interplay of religion, policy, and politics. Rogers co-authored a case book on religion and law for Baylor University Press, Religious Freedom and the Supreme Court (2008). She holds a J.D. from University of Pennsylvania Law School and a B.A. from Baylor University.

Read the executive order here.

This article first ran at The NonProfit Times. It is reprinted with permission.

Paul Clolery

Paul Clolery is vice president and editorial director of NPT Publishing Group and The NonProfit Times, the leading business publication for the charitable, tax-exempt sector.