President Biden reinstates Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, returns Melissa Rogers to helm

by | Feb 24, 2021

By executive order, President Joe Biden re-established the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (White House Partnerships Office). This office seeks to “better serve people in need through partnerships with civil society, while preserving our fundamental constitutional commitments.”

Here is an excerpt from the order outlining the policy undergirding this action:

The American people are key drivers of fundamental change in our country, and few institutions are closer to the people than our faith-based and other community organizations.  It is important that the Federal Government strengthen the ability of such organizations and other nonprofit providers in our communities to deliver services effectively in partnership with Federal, State, and local governments and with other private organizations, while preserving our fundamental constitutional commitments guaranteeing the equal protection of the laws and the free exercise of religion and forbidding the establishment of religion.  The Federal Government can preserve these fundamental commitments while empowering faith-based and secular organizations to assist in the delivery of vital services in our neighborhoods.

According to a fact sheet issued by the White House, the initial areas of focus for the White  House Partnerships Office will be to: “address the COVID-19 pandemic and boost economic recovery; combat systemic racism; increase opportunity and mobility for historically disadvantaged communities; and strengthen pluralism.”

Former BJC General Counsel Melissa Rogers was named executive director of the office,  a post she previously held during the Obama administration. She was also named to the President’s Domestic Policy Council. BJC Executive Director Amanda Tyler hailed the pick:

“Melissa Rogers has the expertise and experience necessary to lead the re-established (office) at a crucial time when our country is facing multiple crises,” Tyler said. “Her appointment to the Domestic Policy Council also shows that the administration recognizes the complexity and intersection of religious freedom concerns across a number of domestic policy issues.”

Josh Dickson was named the deputy director of the office, and Trey Baker will serve as the office’s liaison to Black communities, including Black faith communities. Both Dickson and Baker serve as White House Senior Advisors for Public Engagement. Tyler lauded their records of collaborating with a number of religious and community organizations, representing the full breadth of our pluralistic society.

Under Rogers’ leadership, first as the chair of President Barack Obama’s inaugural Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and later at the helm of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, the Obama administration issued significant new agency rules protecting the religious liberty rights of social service beneficiaries.

The office was first constituted as the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives under President George W. Bush, and it was renamed with a new set of policies and practices under President Obama. The Trump administration did not staff the office and instead created its own Faith and Opportunity Initiative. That office included a charge to propose ways to reduce barriers “to the full and active engagement of faith-based and community organizations in Government-funded or Government-conducted activities and programs.”