Faith in American Public Life
350 pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
- Published: October 2019
In Faith in American Public Life, Melissa Rogers—former Special Assistant to President Barack Obama and Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships—explores the role of religion in the public square and focuses on principles that define the relationship between government and religion. While the Constitution prohibits government-backed religion, it protects the rights of religious individuals and organizations to promote their faith. These twin principles have helped freedom and faith to flourish in the United States.
At the same time, Rogers warns of current threats to religious freedom and pluralism in America, the most serious of which are rising hostility toward and attacks on religious minorities. Fearmongering regarding certain religions, races, and ethnicities and the use of violent imagery and dehumanizing language amount to throwing a match on dry kindling. Americans, Rogers argues, must take action to counter these threats. She also warns about efforts to shrink the constitutional bar on governmental establishment of religion and upset a balanced approach to free exercise issues. Faith in American Public Life offers suggestions for confronting these and other challenges.
Rogers walks readers through settled and contested legal issues, providing an accessible guide to many of the most important and timely matters in this field. The legal rules are not perfect, she says, but they have established a framework that produces remarkable freedom and have helped to create a country where religion can be a powerful force for good. Through her knowledgeable analysis and practical recommendations for policymakers and religious leaders, Rogers inspires hope that the genius of the American system can be preserved and perfected and that efforts to find common ground can be renewed.
Introduction: Religion’s Role in American Public Life
1. Religion and the Constitution: Historical Origins
2. Religion and the Constitution: Some Key Concepts and Cases
3. Faith and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: The Role of Religion in the White House
4. Religion, Policy, and Politics: Barring Religious Tests—Protecting Rights to Engage in Policy and Politics
5. Religious Expression on Government Property: Prohibiting Government Speech Endorsing Religion—Protecting Nongovernmental Religious Speech
6. Government Partnerships with Faith-Based: Organizations Creating Partnerships to Serve People in Need
7. Faith and Federal Funds: Supporting Secular, Not Religious, Activities
8. Religious Exemptions and Accommodations: Balancing Claims of Conscience with Other Interests
9. Faith and the Workplace: Respecting Religious Freedom in Employment
10. Religious Discrimination and Hate Crimes: Fighting Hatred and Bias—Protecting Freedom and Pluralism
Conclusion: A Crossroads for Faith in American Public Life
Melissa Rogers is a national treasure for her leadership and scholarship on the intersection of faith and public policy. I benefitted greatly from her leadership when she chaired the President Obama's inaugural Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, on which I served, and in her role as special assistant to President Obama. She continues to lead in this area with Faith in American Public Life. It is an engaging, accessible, and informative must-read for all who exercise their faith in the public square.~Frederick A. Davie, Executive Vice-President, Union Theological Seminary
Melissa Rogers’ insights are fresh and contemporary even as her scholarly work amounts to a comprehensive handbook on the timeless merits of religious liberty and the historical challenges to it. She masterfully analyzes a wide range of settled and contested legal issues while highlighting landmark cases that are foundational to questions of free exercise and establishment. Her analysis weaves in recent court decisions, demonstrating that challenges to religious liberty are as strident today as ever. Rogers writes as a legal scholar with a sophisticated understanding of First Amendment protections for religious freedom; an educator with a keen ability to make complex legal opinions accessible to eager learners; a religious liberty lawyer with years of advocacy experience; and with the charisma of a visionary leader who served in the White House actively seeking opportunities for progressive collaboration between our federal government and people of faith.~Jeffrey Haggray, Executive Director, American Baptist Home Mission Societies
This is an especially timely and topical work. In addition to its meticulous review of every part of the Constitution that deals with religion, the author covers controversies that are of interest to a wide range of constituencies. Professor Rogers balances scholarly erudition and sophisticated legal reasoning about the Constitution with a firm grasp of political realities and alliances to produce a wonderful book that will be accessible and appealing to laypeople as well as lawyers.~Emile Lester, Associate Professor, University of Mary Washington
We are lucky to have the benefit of Melissa Rogers' wisdom and scholarship. In Faith and American Public Life, she draws on her incomparable experience as an advocate, analyst, and high-level policymaker as she lays out the history and underlying values that undergirded the Constitution's historic protections of religious freedom and provides guidance as to the development and current state of the law in an even-handed and measured fashion. Moreover, she makes recommendations as to how all of us—policymakers and the public at large—should and must proceed if we are to move away from a divisive zero-sum approach and toward a society in which, by law and by temperament, we can live and work together with respect and dignity, notwithstanding profound differences on the most fundamental of matters.~Richard Foltin, Senior Scholar for Religious Freedom, Religious Freedom Center, Freedom Forum Institute
Melissa Rogers has written a definitive guide for both experts and newcomers seeking to navigate complex legal and moral issues around religious freedom, individual rights, and respect for pluralism. As a religious activist working to protect religious minorities, uphold the protection of religious freedom and LGBTQ rights, and ensure women have access to healthcare, I can tell you this book will be at my fingertips as a critical resource for years to come.~Rev. Jennifer Butler, CEO of Faith in Public Life and Former Chair of the Third President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships
Melissa Rogers has been on the front lines of where religion and politics intersect in our public life. She knows well the bright lines that separate church and state but she also appreciates how religion can impact all our conversations in the public square.~Mike McCurry, former White House Press Secretary and Director/Professor at Wesley Theological Seminary
Melissa Rogers masterfully tells the story of religion and faith in the public square in Faith in American Public Life. She hones in on the current threats to religious liberty and the danger those threats pose to American democracy: the destruction of pluralism. Rogers remains inclusive in both her work and the book—a reflection of her focus on all faith communities as Special Assistant to President Barack Obama and Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. While challenges to maintaining religious freedom remains, Rogers offers hope and a path forward to ensuring a healthy and vibrant role for faith in public life.~Hoda Hawa, Director, Washington, DC Office, Muslim Public Affairs Council
A careful and meticulous study, one that has enormous value to scholars but also to general readers who are interested in this important topic. What sets this book apart is the careful scholarship as well as the breadth of the treatment, taking the analysis up to the present. Rogers covers all of the relevant cases, providing historical as well as cultural context.~Randall Balmer, John Phillips Professor in Religion and Director of the Society of Fellows, Dartmouth College
This is a magisterial book written by an extraordinary scholar and practitioner. All of us who are interested both in what the Constitution has to say about religion in our country and in how those words have been read, parsed, interpreted, and implemented are indebted to Rogers. She helps us to understand why religious freedom is so important and how we can best defend it when it is threatened.~Amir Hussain, Professor of Theological Studies, Loyola Marymount University
The present moment in American society is calling people of faith to our civic duty of discerning a way forward to strengthen America’s future as a land of freedom, opportunity, tolerance, and civility. Our public discourse has become more polarized and less constructive as we often speak at one another through electronic devices, rather than speaking with our fellow human beings. The potential for people of faith to work across differences holds great promise so long as we foreground our shared commitment to faith and work to understand the boundaries laid out in our Constitution. With clear explanations and fascinating examples, this is a bookshelf essential for all who are interested in religion's role in American public life.~Julie Schonfeld, CEO Emeritus, The Rabbinical Assembly; Founder and CEO, Leading Ethics LLC
This fascinating and important book on religion in modern America could not be more timely. The country is grappling with a number of issues, including what to make of religion in the public square—and there is perhaps no more qualified and experienced person to delve into these matters than Melissa Rogers. She brings her unique perspectives and sharp insight into her writing, making for a smooth yet meaningful and informative reading experience.~Simran Jeet Singh, Senior Fellow for the Sikh Coalition and Host of the Podcast "Spirited"
Filled with both cogent arguments and historical anecdotes, Faith in American Public Life is an invaluable, accessible resource for any pastor or religious leader endeavoring to understand more deeply the role that faith can play in American public life. At a time in our nation’s history when some Christians are claiming religious liberty only for themselves, Melissa Rogers reminds us of religion’s prophetic role in calling people and nations to exercise what Abraham Lincoln poetically described as ‘the better angels of our nature.’~Julie Pennington-Russell, Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church of the City of Washington, D.C.
In this cultural moment, with hostility against religious minorities on the rise and Christian supremacy often conflated with free speech, we very much need works like Faith in American Public Life. The safety of our neighbors—not to mention the stability of our democracy—relies on the kind of clear-eyed and reasonable account Melissa Rogers provides.~Clint Schnekloth, Christian Century
I have often said that I believe in the separation of church and state, but that does not require the segregation of faith and moral values from public life. In this enlightening book, Melissa Rogers explores the many ways religion, when properly instituted in the public square, can create a flourishing and healthy society. This is also a timely reminder that those of faiths different from our own should be just as respected and protected as any other, and that freedom of religion is among the core values a society should promote.~Jim Wallis, author of Christ in Crisis: Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus
Rogers combines a passionate commitment to the religious liberty guarantees in the First Amendment with a principled but also practical approach to how we can live together in peace and respect each other’s rights. These pages are anchored in her extensive experience—as a lawyer, scholar, and White House official. They are inspired by the hope that even in a fractious political time, we can still make progress in resolving at least some of our conflicts. That hope urgently needs to be rekindled.~E. J. Dionne Jr., Professor in the Foundations of Democracy and Culture, Georgetown University
The best antidote to faith and politics done wrong is faith and politics done right, and in this important book, Melissa Rogers helps us get it right. With wisdom rooted in both legal and theological training, augmented by Rogers' unique first-had experience, Faith in American Public Life will help faith-rooted voters, and especially the pastors and other leaders who guide them, to enter the current fray, putting the long-term common good over short-term partisan expediency. One could wish every candidate and elected official would read it too. Highly recommended!~Brian D. McLaren, Author, Speaker, and Activist
In this brilliant and beautifully written book, Melissa Rogers illuminates the difficult choices before us regarding religion in public life, and inspires and instructs us on how to make those choices in a way that is factual, fair, and faithful to our finest civic traditions. Rogers is a public treasure, and this remarkably balanced book is genuine must-reading for anyone who truly cares about the present and future of religion in the American public square.~John J. DiIulio, Jr., Frederic Fox Leadership Professor of Politics, Religion, and Civil Society, University of Pennsylvania and First Director, White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives
With passion, precision, and power, Melissa Rogers makes the case for the importance of understanding how religion shapes and informs American public life. Going beyond a mere rehearsal of a narrative of nostalgia of religious freedom, Faith in American Public Life offers a probing and critical analysis of how American democracy is insulated against and inspired by religion in public life. In a moment of deep political polarization animated by differences of religion and identity, this text is both timely and relevant. Faith in American Public Life is essential reading for a vibrant and robust democracy.~Corey D. B. Walker, Visiting Professor, University of Richmond and Union Presbyterian Seminary