The White House let Melissa Rogers speak to the press on the record today, but to say that the new head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (OFANP) was on a short leash would strain the bounds of understatement. Actual policy issues such as faith-based hiring or the HHS contraception mandate were out of bounds, and everything to do with the future of the office was in the nature of keep on keeping on.
Still, Rogers let drop enough of a to-do list to suggest why a top-drawer First Amendment lawyer like herself would want to take the job. Alongside continuing to pursue partnerships with non-profit service providers and challenging college students to do interfaith good works, OFANP is charged with implementing the Executive Order that President Obama issued in 2010 to clean up the E.O. that George W. Bush issued to establish the office in 2001.
As head of the Advisory Board committee dealing with the reform of the office, Rogers herself was largely responsible for setting the terms of the Obama E.O. It then took a year and half for an interagency task force to provide the necessary guidance for the 13 agencies participating in the OFANP operation to begin actually to implement it. Rogers said she was very excited about getting the implementation done and I believe it.
The E.O. enunciates some important principles of church-state separation that will involve creating new regulations and making sure they are being observed. Perhaps the most significant is the requirement that alternatives to faith-based providers have to be provided to clients who object to them–and the clients need to be informed that such alternatives are an option.
Rogers is an old-time Baptist separationist. Ensuring that those entitled to government services do not have religion inflicted upon them is as dear to her heart as it should be to the rest of us.