White HouseWritten by Don Byrd

Former Baptist Joint Committee General Counsel Melissa Rogers served as special assistant to President Obama and executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships from 2013 until President Trump’s Inauguration last week. Drawing on her vast experience at the intersection of religion and public policy, she writes a new column, Faith and the Trump White House, for the Brookings Institution.

Specifically, Rogers offers 4 ways the Trump administration can and should apply constitutional principles of religious liberty. Here is the third of those four, which I found especially compelling:

Third, the government’s focus should be on promoting the common good, not theology, whether in general or in particular.  The U.S. Government’s role is not to advance faith; that is the job of religious individuals and institutions themselves. Likewise, while there is often overlap in the missions of religion and the United States government, it should be acknowledged that that overlap is never complete. For example, as James Madison recognized, it is beyond the government’s ken to say what is true or false as a theological matter; no “civil magistrate” is “a competent judge of religious truth.” Similarly, the government should remember that establishments of religion not only harm the consciences of those who don’t embrace the favored faith; they also undermine the religion that the state endorses by sapping its independence and vitality.

That is such an essential point: the interests of government and of religion often overlap. But there is a difference. Government should always take precautions to “promote the common good,” as she says, “and not theology.”

What are the first, second, and fourth ways she explains? Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing to find out. Melissa Rogers has served Baptists, and now served the country, to further the religious liberty of all Americans. She has a deep understanding of the issues surrounding the religious liberty impacts of various government policy approaches. The new administration would do well to listen to her advice. 

For another look at the religious liberty under a Trump administration, see the latest column from the BJC’s Holly Hollman.