Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Blog
- Posted byon June 3, 2014 at 3:20 PM EDT
With summer’s arrival, officials at the White House and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are preparing for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). This program ensures that low-income children continue to receive nutritious meals when school is not in session. Free meals that meet federal nutrition guidelines are provided to all children 18 years old and under at approved SFSP sites in areas with significant concentrations of low-income children.
Our offices recently hosted a nationwide conference call to thank faith and community leaders for their work in this area and to inform them about efforts surrounding the SFSP this summer. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack kicked off the call, challenging community leaders to strive for an aggressive, but attainable goal: serving an additional 10 million meals over the course of the summer to better reach our children in need. Secretary Vilsack discussed the need for children to be well-nourished, an essential part of our commitment to helping children learn and thrive.
Executive Director of “Let’s Move!” Sam Kass also joined the call to reinforce the message that our concerted efforts are vital to the success of summer feeding efforts. Callers were encouraged to rely on resources like the new USDA summer meals toolkit and websites that educate parents about their families’ options.
To discuss how to further amplify this call to action and for more information, visit www.summerfood.usda.gov. For more information on actual sites where SFSP meals are being served, click here to find summer sites serving meals. Alternatively, you may call 1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-877-8-HAMBRE (for Spanish speakers) to find a free, nutritious summer meal site near you. And for additional information on USDA partnerships, please visit www.usda.gov/partnerships.
A special thanks to all of those who are committed to the success of SFSP 2014 and to helping children have a happy and healthy summer.
Melissa Rogers is Special Assistant to the President and Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Norah Deluhery directs USDA’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
- Posted byon May 30, 2014 at 3:12 PM EDT
In February, as part of his plan to make 2014 a year of action focused on expanding opportunity for all Americans, President Obama unveiled the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential.
During the launch, the President established the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, with a mandate to determine which public and private efforts are working and how to expand them; how the federal government can better support these efforts; and how to better involve state and local officials, the private sector, and the philanthropic community.
Today, the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force released its 90-day report. This report includes key indicators that provide a comprehensive view of the environments and outcomes for boys and young men of color and their peers. It also contains recommendations on steps our society can take to begin to expand opportunity for all in areas including:
- Entering school ready to learn
- Reading at grade level by third grade
- Graduating from high school ready for college and career
- Completing post-secondary education or training
- Successfully entering the workforce
- Reducing violence and providing a second chance
While the Administration is identifying programs and policies that work, the President is also calling on Americans interested in getting involved in My Brother’s Keeper to sign a pledge to become long-term mentors to young people at http://www.whitehouse.gov/my-brothers-keeper. This effort will engage Americans from all walks of life to develop sustained and direct mentoring relationships that will play vital roles in the lives of young people. Faith and community leaders in particular know that all children need and deserve caring adults who are engaged in their lives.
Today’s report is just the first step. In coming weeks and months, leading foundations will independently announce specific commitments to help ensure young people can succeed.
Further, the recommendations identified by the President’s Task Force mark the starting point of what will be a long-term effort—on the part of public, private, and philanthropic actors—that will continue well beyond this initial 90-day progress report. We look forward to continuing to work with faith and community leaders on these important issues.
Melissa Rogers is Special Assistant to the President and Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
- Posted byon January 16, 2014 at 1:03 PM EDT
Today is Religious Freedom Day, marking the anniversary of the passage of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which ultimately provided the inspiration and framework of the First Amendment’s religion clauses. In his Religious Freedom Day Proclamation President Obama calls on us to “celebrate America’s legacy of religious liberty” and “resolve once more to advance religious freedom in our time.”
One way that the federal government seeks to ensure that these principles are put into practice is through enforcement of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). Passed by unanimous consent in 2000 with the support of a religiously and ideologically diverse coalition of groups, RLUIPA seeks to ensure religious freedom in two important areas: the ability of religious communities to build places of worship and other religious institutions, and the ability of prisoners and other persons confined to institutions to continue to practice their faiths.
Prior to RLUIPA, Congress had found widespread discrimination against places of worship in local zoning decisions: discrimination against minority faiths, against Christian churches with members from racial minorities, and against smaller and newer churches. Congress also found that places of worship as a category faced discrimination, excluded from zones where nonreligious places of assembly, like fraternal organizations, theaters, and community centers were permitted.
As Senator Orrin Hatch and the late Senator Edward Kennedy, RLUIPA’s Senate sponsors, noted: “The right to assemble for worship is at the very core of the free exercise of religion. Churches and synagogues cannot function without a physical space adequate to their needs and consistent with their theological requirements.” Congress thus passed RLUIPA, which prevents discrimination against religious institutions in zoning and landmarking decisions, and also prevents application of these laws in ways that imposes a “substantial burden” on religious exercise without a compelling government reason. Suits may be brought by the affected religious institutions or individuals, as well as by the Department of Justice.
A Department of Justice report on the 10th anniversary of RLUIPA found that the law had a “dramatic impact in its first ten years on protecting the religious freedom of and preventing religious discrimination against individuals and institutions seeking to exercise their religions through construction, expansion, and use of property.” The report noted that these cases represented a wide range of religious groups, including Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, people who practice Native American traditional religions, and many others, and arose in a wide range of settings, including churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship, religious schools, prayer meetings in homes, and faith-based social services such as homeless shelters, group homes, and soup kitchens.
RLUIPA’s land use protections continue to protect a wide range of religious institutions. Recent cases include helping a small independent church in Mississippi and a large Hispanic Southern Baptist Church in Arizona to locate in downtown areas on an equal basis with nonreligious assemblies; winning a consent decree to permit a Buddhist congregation in Walnut, California to construct a temple; helping win the right for a small Hasidic Jewish congregation to locate in a residential neighborhood in Los Angeles; and obtaining a consent decree allowing an Islamic Center in Lomita, California, to replace its aging and inadequate complex with a single mosque building.
RLUIPA also protects the religious freedom rights of persons confined to prisons, jails, mental institutions and state-run nursing homes. While security and other unique needs of such institutions will mean that people in them do not have all the freedoms they have outside of them, Senators Hatch and Kennedy noted that “some institutions restrict religious liberty in egregious and unnecessary ways” and that “prison officials sometimes impose frivolous or arbitrary rules” such as denying matzo bread to Jews at Passover or refusing to allow prisoners to wear small crosses that did not pose security risks. In December 2013, the Department of Justice won a Preliminary Injunction against the State of Florida requiring it to offer Kosher meals to prisoners whose faith requires them, and the Department recently reached a consent decree with a county jail in South Carolina to allow prisoners to obtain religious texts, secondary religious materials, and religious items used in worship.
The values embodied in RLUIPA are universal ideals. Department of Justice attorneys have provided technical assistance on issues involving construction of places of worship to government officials in Spain, Indonesia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and other countries wrestling with these same issues. In 2012, the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Tennessee won the right to move into its new mosque with the help of a RLUIPA suit brought by the Department of Justice. On the day of the court decision, the mosque’s Imam, Sheikh Ossama Bahloul, remarked that America’s dedication to religious freedom can serve as a model for others around the world, and added: “I think this is an opportunity for us all to celebrate the freedom and liberty that, in fact, exist in America and to teach our young people to believe even more in the U.S. Constitution.”
Melissa Rogers is Special Assistant to the President and Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Eric Treene is Special Counsel for Religious Discrimination at the Department of Justice.
- Posted byon January 8, 2014 at 7:15 PM EDT
“This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America…It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won.” – President Lyndon B. Johnson, State of the Union, January 8, 1964."
Today marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s declaration of the War on Poverty. The effort, which consisted of anti-poverty programs aimed at improving education and healthcare access, feeding the hungry, and ensuring a livelihood for our seniors, was an important step in both our country’s awareness of and commitment to fighting the hurdles, hardships and lack of opportunity faced by people living below the poverty line.
Over the past 50 years, federal programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Headstart and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have played a critical role in the national effort to fight poverty. Today, these and other anti-poverty initiatives have contributed to a reduction in overall poverty rates and are currently keeping close to 40 million Americans from falling below the poverty line. In addition to a decrease in the overall poverty rate during this time, the poverty rate among seniors has fallen from roughly 30 percent in the mid-1960s to 9.1 percent in 2012.
The Obama administration has worked hard to help create jobs, improve our schools, increase access to healthcare, and ensure fair treatment for everyone working and seeking work. And the effort to continue fighting poverty remains a top priority for President Obama. According to the Commerce Department’s Census Bureau, 49.7 million Americans, or 16 percent of the population, were in poverty in 2012. Furthermore, a Census report released yesterday found that 3.6 percent of our population experienced chronic poverty between 2009 and 2011. During that same period of time, nearly one in three Americans lived in poverty for at least two months.
- Posted byon December 17, 2013 at 4:03 PM EDT
History is a great teacher.
Associate Pastor Ben Davidson of Bethany Community Church learned a valuable lesson during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 that benefitted him and his congregation the morning of Nov. 17, 2013, when a powerful tornado tore through Washington IL.
His quick thinking reminds me when disasters occur; having a plan can save lives and help pivot a community toward a strong recovery. I have learned this lesson many times through the faith leaders I’ve engaged as director of the DHS Center for Faith-based & Neighborhood Partnerships.
On Sunday morning Pastor Davidson was preparing to begin his adult Sunday school class, when he received an emergency phone call. A tornado had touched down and their church was in its path.
Immediately he and the staff worked to move the congregation --particularly the children -- to their designated shelter in the church location and they began to pray together as the storm passed through their community.
- Posted byon November 4, 2013 at 6:36 PM EDT
Tomorrow, the White House will celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights, for the fifth time since President Obama took office. This year, First Lady Michelle Obama will provide remarks and light the diya, or lamp.
Watch the First Lady’s remarks live at starting at WhiteHouse.gov/Live 4:00 p.m. EST
And check out this statement from President Obama on the Observance of Diwali.
Gautam Raghavan is an Advisor in the White House Office of Public Engagement.
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