By Aaron Earls
At a National Day of Prayer event in the White House Rose Garden, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to start a new faith-based initiative.
Before signing, Trump said his administration is “launching another historic action to promote religious freedom.”
Trump’s order expands the assignments of previous faith-based offices in the White House. It mandates all executive departments and agencies that do not have their own faith-based initiatives to have a “liaison” to the new White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative office in the executive branch.
The initiative will focus on what programs are effective with faith and government partnerships and not be concerned about church-state barriers, a spokesperson for the president told The Washington Post’s Michelle Boorstein.
Spokesman for Trump's faith advisors says the difference is this faith office isn't as focused on "where the church-state barriers are" and thinks govt-religion partnerships should focus on effective programs "without all of these arbitrary concerns as to what is appropriate" https://t.co/BcawYZDIoi
— Michelle Boorstein (@mboorstein) May 3, 2018
Trump’s order also calls for those working with the initiative to report any failures of the executive branch to comply with religious liberty protections.
According to Religion News Service, the White House said the order is “to ensure that the faith-based and community organizations that form the bedrock of our society have strong advocates in the White House and throughout the federal government.”
The initiative will focus on poverty, religious liberty, education, strengthening the family, helping prisoners, mental health, and human trafficking.
The White House statement highlights responsibilities of the new initiative, including providing recommendations on policies that affect faith-based groups, providing recommendations on poverty solutions, reporting on religious liberty within the executive branch, and reducing “the burdens of the exercise of free religion.”
President George W. Bush first created a similar office in 2001 to serve as a bridge between the White House and faith communities.
The stated purpose of the office was to place religious groups on par with other nonprofits in terms of receiving federal dollars. Under Bush, faith-based nonprofit organizations received more than $10.6 billion in federal grants, according to The Washington Post.
Shortly after he took office, President Barack Obama announced his version of the office at the National Prayer Breakfast. It is up to each president to create his own faith-based initiative or not.
Johnnie Moore, an evangelical adviser to the president, told told RNS Trump’s faith-based office will be different from previous ones.
“Ordering every department of the federal government to work on faith-based partnerships—not just those with faith offices—represents a widespread expansion of a program that has historically done very effective work and now can do even greater work” said Moore.
According to RNS, the adviser leading the new initiative will work with faith leaders and experts outside the White House, similar to Obama’s initiative. As of yet, the White House has not announced any staff for the initiative.
During the National Day of Prayer event prior to the signing, Vice President Mike Pence lauded the new initiative but stressed the importance of prayer. “The most important thing we’ll do today is gather and pray.”
He said, “Prayer is the cord that runs through every era of American history.”
As part of his speech, Trump remembered the passing of Rev. Billy Graham. “Rev. Graham reminds us that prayer has always been at the center of American life.”
He also spoke of the role of faith in addressing national difficulties. “We know that in solving our many problems and great challenges, faith is more powerful than government,” Trump said, “and nothing is more powerful than God.”
- 6 Ways to Pray for America on the National Day of Prayer
- Religious Freedom Can Depend on What You Believe
- Americans Sure of Religious Freedom, Unsure of Extent
- Freedom of Confusion: Most Americans Unsure What the First Amendment Protects
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.