Thursday, March 14, 2013

New Director for WH Office of Faith-Based Partnerships

The White House announced this week (March 13) that a new Director had been appointed to the White House Office of Faith-Based Partnerships (WHOFBP).

The new Director is Melissa Rogers, formerly the director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University Divinity School and a nonresident senior fellow at The Brookings Institution.  She most recently served as general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, a church-state separationist group, and served as one of the members President Obama appointed to the WHOFBP's Advisory Council in 2009. In that role, she was one of the very few on the Council who did not represent a beneficiary of WHOFBP funds.

Rogers also served as executive director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and was appointed to the State Department's Religion and Foreign Policy Working Group in 2011. She is a familiar face on Capitol Hill, testifying before members of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees on religious freedom issues.

She succeeds Joshua DuBois, who has led faith-based efforts under President Barack Obama since the president's first term. DuBois was a Pentecostal minister and a Senate aide to Obama prior to Obama's election to the White Hose. DuBois was a controversial choice in part due to his age (26 at the time) as well as his divinity credentials, and angered many church-state separationist groups by leaving almost all of the Constitutionally questionable aspects of the WHOFBP established by prior President George W. Bush in place.

Separationists are much more optimistic in regards to Rogers. The Rev. Welton Gaddy, president of Interfaith Alliance, a liberal faith-based group that has been a major critic of the WHOFBP, praised Rogers' appointment on Wednesday: "Much work is yet to be done on the proper relationship between federal money and sectarian organizations, including resolving whether these organizations can continue to accept taxpayer dollars while discriminating in hiring based on religion -- which I do not believe they should be allowed to do.

"I know of no individual better suited to oversee this important endeavor, with sensitivity to the competing views and priorities at play, and with great integrity, than Melissa Rogers."

Sunday, March 10, 2013

65th Anniversary of McCollum v Board of Education

Rob Boston, AU
Communications Director
Sixty-five years ago today (March 8), the U.S. Supreme Court handed down one of its most important church-state decisions.

The 8-1 ruling in McCollum v. Board of Education in 1948 ended a practice in the Champaign, Ill., public schools of allowing ministers to come onto the campus during the day to offer sectarian instruction.

The decision is important because it marked the first time the high court ruled that the public schools could not be in the business of promoting religion to students. It paved the way for the 1962 and '63 rulings striking down official school prayer and Bible reading.

Writing for the majority in McCollum, Justice Hugo Black scored "the use of tax-supported property for religious instruction and the close cooperation between the school authorities and the religious council in promoting religious education."

Observed Black, "Here not only are the State's tax-supported public school buildings used for the dissemination of religious doctrines. The State also affords sectarian groups an invaluable aid in that it helps to provide pupils for their religious classes through use of the State's compulsory public school machinery. This is not separation of Church and State."


Encinitas School Sued for Offering Yoga

— A nonprofit law firm announced Wednesday that it has filed a lawsuit against the Encinitas Union School District over a district yoga program that the plaintiffs argue is a form of religious indoctrination.

Americans United is not a party, nor does it support the lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed by the National Center for Law & Policy, Christian legal advocacy firm, on behalf of Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock and their two children, who attend school in the elementary district.