Today the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued new guidance advising federal agencies on how to implement President Obama’s Executive Order 13559. That order lays out key principles for federal agencies to follow while forming partnerships with faith-based and other neighborhood organizations. This guidance will help agencies to ensure that these partnerships respect religious freedom guarantees and work effectively for faith-based and other community providers, and the people in need they serve.
Executive Order 13559 is based on recommendations made by the President’s first Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. These recommendations were crafted by a diverse group of leaders, including those representing the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, the Incarnate Word Foundation, the Interfaith Alliance, the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Despite their differences, these groups united around a call for certain reforms of the partnerships the federal government forms with religious and secular non-profits.
These reforms include:
- Ensuring that decisions about federal grants are not made of the basis of an organization’s religious affiliation, or because of a lack of any religious affiliation.
- Increasing transparency by posting online regulations, guidance documents, and policies that have implications for faith-based and other neighborhood organizations, along with a list of organizations receiving Federal financial assistance.
- Providing clearer guidance regarding the principle that any explicitly religious activities must be separated, in time or location, from programs that receive direct federal support. This protects beneficiaries’ rights and the ability of religious organizations to offer privately funded religious activities as well as federally funded ones. Religious organizations also will be assured that they may continue practices like selecting board members on a religious basis, and still receive federal funding for eligible activities.
Today’s memo from the Office of Management and Budget follows an interagency report and advises agencies on how to implement these reforms. To help meet these goals, and to achieve uniformity across the federal government to the greatest extent possible, the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and OMB will reconvene an interagency working group. Our Office looks forward to working with stakeholders to ensure that the government respects religious liberty principles as it works with partners to serve people in need.
Melissa Rogers is the Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships