By Kelsey Dallas // Deseret News

The following is an excerpt. Visit the Deseret News website for the full article.

SALT LAKE CITY — President Donald Trump’s recently announced White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative gives old drama a new name, according to religious liberty advocates.

The program, launched with an executive order May 3, reignites debates about the flow of public money into religious organizations and how best to safeguard the separation of church and state. …

President Barack Obama gave the Bush administration’s office a new name and an expanded mission. His White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships continued to allow government resources to support faith-based organizations, but it also encouraged the flow of information back into the White House. The office collected input from faith groups on proposed policies and potential solutions to societal problems.

Bush and Obama, like Trump, faced pushback for their faith-based initiatives. People have always disagreed on where the line should be drawn in constitutionally mandated separation of church and state, said Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

The Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” which has been interpreted over the decades to mean that the federal government cannot favor one faith over another in its policies.

In the context of the faith-based initiative, some argue that sending government money to a religious organization that only hires members of a certain faith or teaches that same-sex marriage is a sin illegally favors conservative Christian faith groups.

“That line has always been difficult to discern, but, to this point, we’ve agreed that it would be unconstitutional for government money to directly fund religion,” Tyler said. …

Religious organizations involved in the faith-based initiatives had to keep federal money separate from the budget they used for explicitly religious activities.

Additionally, the Obama administration published a final rule in March 2016 that required religious organizations to provide people seeking their services with information about their rights. Beneficiaries were allowed to ask for recommendations on other service providers if they were uncomfortable with the religious mission of the first agency they encountered.

“There’s been a guiding principle that we cannot predicate receipt of these services on religious beliefs. The beneficiaries receiving government services must be able to do so no matter what religion they belong to,” Tyler said. …

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