Last week, on the National Day of Prayer, President Trump released an executive order titled the Establishment of a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative. While executive orders don’t carry the force of legislation, they prove useful for describing and shaping a president’s goals during his term in office.
At its core, this order does two things:
- It changes the operational structure of the faith-based office.
- It also recognizes the value that people motivated by religious convictions bring to their communities.
As for the structure changes, this order changes the name of the former White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnership, which was put in place by President George W. Bush in 2001, to the “White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative.” Under this new structure, the Initiative will be better integrated within the Executive Office of the President to work more closely with the White House Office of Public Liaison and the White House Domestic Policy Council. This will enhance communication between the White House and the many Centers for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives at various governmental agencies (including, for example, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) regarding matters that impact faith-based and community organizations.
The anticipated end? The president will be better informed about the concerns facing these faith-based and community organizations and better equipped to implement potential solutions to those concerns.
The order also seeks to ensure that the administration’s policy goals for faith-based organizations will be implemented throughout the federal government. To this end, the order underscores the importance of removing any burdens on the exercise of religion and notifying the Attorney General of any failure by the executive branch to comply with federal laws protecting conscience and religious liberty. The order specifically references the Attorney General’s memorandum, entitled Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty, from October 2017.
Also encouraging is the order’s strong affirmation of the value of faith-informed engagement in public life. The order reads: “Faith-based and community organizations have tremendous ability to serve individuals, families, and communities through means that are different from those of government and with capacity that often exceeds that of government.”
The executive order notes that faith-based communities provide valuable expertise in a broad range of areas, “including poverty alleviation, religious liberty, strengthening marriage and family, education, solutions for substance abuse and addiction, crime prevention and reduction, prisoner reentry, and health and humanitarian services.”
It’s easy to read that list quickly without taking in the thousands of human stories and real-life implications. Faith-based adoption providers and homeless shelters, religious schools, and community mentoring programs already touch thousands of lives daily—and touch lives in ways that the federal government can’t. “These organizations,” the order explains, “lift people up, keep families strong, and solve problems at the local level.”
In fact, a 2016 study estimated that religious organizations offer over $300 billion in economic benefit to our country each year.
The administration’s commitment to ensuring that faith-based and community organizations are able to compete on a level playing field for grants, contracts, programs, and other federal funding opportunities benefits families and communities across the nation and promotes human flourishing.
And that is certainly something worth promoting.