Written by Don Byrd

Thursday morning, President Trump issued an Executive Order making changes to the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships established under President Obama. The new White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative will, among other things:

(iii)  make recommendations to the President… regarding changes to policies, programs, and practices that affect the delivery of services by faith-based and community organizations….

(vi)   notify the Attorney General … of concerns raised by faith-based and community organizations about any failures of the executive branch to comply with protections of Federal law for religious liberty…. 

(vii)  identify and propose means to reduce… burdens on the exercise of religious convictions and legislative, regulatory, and other barriers to the full and active engagement of faith-based and community organizations in Government-funded or Government-conducted activities and programs.

The Order also establishes a White House Advisor and requires every executive agency to designate a point of contact with the Advisor.

In a ceremony marking the Executive Order, the President touted the ability of faith-based organizations to address societal problems. It remains unclear how the new initiative will function, and lacks any details regarding the operation of the Initiative or safeguards to prevent impermissible church-state entanglements. What we do know is not encouraging.

Former Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (and former BJC General Counsel) Melissa Rogers noted on Twitter that the new Executive Order “strikes religious liberty protections for beneficiaries of govt-funded social services” by removing requirements that they receive written notification of those rights.

The Baptist Joint Committee’s Executive Director Amanda Tyler emphasized the importance of these kinds of details. She issued the following statement in response to the President’s Executive Order:

“Details matter. We know from our experience and advocacy efforts with the prior two administrations that government and religious organizations can partner in constitutional ways to deliver social services, but that getting it right takes more than a proclamation and a Rose Garden ceremony.

Standing up for religious freedom requires both protecting the free exercise rights of all Americans and ensuring that government neither promotes any one faith tradition nor favors religion over irreligion.”

You can read Religion News Service’s coverage of the Executive Order here. The Atlantic’s Emma Green has coverage with helpful context here.