Church-State Separation Advocates Praise New Obama Pick for Faith-Based Office Director

After President Obama announced that Joshua DuBois, the director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, was stepping down last month, I wrote that this new opening presented an opportunity for the president to appoint someone with a deep understanding of the legal and constitutional issues surrounding the office’s activities.

This morning, Mike Allen reported on Playbook that the president will be appointing Melissa Rogers, lately of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University Divinity School, and formerly the executive director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. Rogers is a well-known and highly respected expert on the intersection of religion and public life, as well as a legal expert on the First Amendment and related religion issues. 

The Coalition Against Religious Discrimination has long advocated for greater adherence to constitutional priciples during DuBois’ tenure. Some of the organizations that have been part of CARD are praising the pick this morning. Maggie Garrett, Legislative Director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said:

Melissa Rogers is a smart pick for the position. She is well extremely well-versed in the constitutional issues surrounding the Faith-Based Initiative. One of the current tasks before the Director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships is to implement reforms to the Faith-Based Initiative, as adopted by the President’s Executive Order. As the Chair of the Advisory Council that suggested those reforms to the President, she has a thorough understanding and dedication to them and so we expect that she will properly and effectively implement them.    

Dena Sher, Legislative Counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, echoed those sentiments: “Melissa has worked for years to protect religious liberty and uphold the Constitution. She will be strongly committed to the Office’s goal of ensuring that government partnerships with religious organizations uphold our laws and our values.”

More reaction from the Rev. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance:

Though I have been opposed to a faith-based office in the White House since the entity was first established, with Melissa as the leader of that office, I have more confidence than I ever have felt before that the office will pay close attention to the religious liberty clauses in the Constitution. Much work is yet to be done on the proper relationship between federal money and sectarian organizations, including resolving whether these organizations can continue to accept taxpayer dollars while discriminating in hiring based on religion—which I do not believe they should be allowed to do. I know of no individual better suited to oversee this important endeavor, with sensitivity to the competing views and priorities at play, and with great integrity, than Melissa Rogers. 

This post has been updated from the original to include these reactions.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email