The former director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships has raised concerns about President Donald Trump's new "Faith and Opportunity Initiative" — and said it may actually limit religious freedoms.
Melissa Rogers, the former head of the White House's faith office under President Barack Obama, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that during the last administration, the office "focused on the government’s partnerships with faith-based and community groups" and provided religious people resources to help them navigate such programs and groups.
Trump's new initiative, however, will strike "religious liberty protections for Americans who get government-subsidized social services."
Under the Obama administration's faith office, religious groups that received government funds were required to inform beneficiaries whose beliefs don't line up with theirs of comparable services. Rogers used the case of an Orthodox Jewish man "placed in a government-subsidized job program that meets in a church" that would need accommodation because "his religious beliefs bar him from entering a church."
"The order Trump signed in early May eliminates the alternative-provider requirements," the former director of the White House's faith office wrote. "Trump’s order also strikes the requirement that beneficiaries receive written notice of protections for their religious liberty."
Though the Trump White House did not explain its change in the office, it did provide two justifications: that such referrals were a waste of time, and that anti-abortion religious groups receiving federal funding should not have to refer beneficiaries to providers that offer abortions.
"Available data suggests that referrals in general are rarely requested, and this specific kind of referral request seems even more unlikely," Rogers wrote. "In such a case, however, the religious provider could request and receive an accommodation under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, one that would honor the objection and find another way to make the referral."
"Removing religious liberty protections in the name of religious freedom taints the cause," she continued. "Honoring freedom for faith-based providers, while taking it away from people receiving services, is wrong."