President Donald Trump on Thursday signed an executive order creating a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative within the Executive Office of the President.
The executive order highlights that “the efforts of faith-based and community organizations are essential to revitalizing communities,” and reiterates that “the Federal Government welcomes opportunities to partner with such organizations through innovative, measurable, and outcome-driven initiatives.”
The White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative will “consult with and seek information from experts and various faith and community leaders,” and will provide guidance on reducing “the burdens on the exercise of free religion.”
The initiative will also seek to arrange a partnership between faith-based and other community organizations in order to combat poverty.
Previous presidents have similarly instituted faith-based initiatives, focusing on ensuring that religious charities had access to federal funding and could be involved in government. George W. Bush created the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, which Barack Obama renamed the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The head position in that office has remained vacant since Trump assumed the presidency.
The new initiative will have a stronger explicit focus on religious freedom. It will also create the position of “Advisor to the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative” and will require executive departments to designate a liason to the initiative.
Speaking in the Rose Garden with several religious figures, including Cardinal Donald Wuerl from the Archdiocese of Washington, Trump discussed the goals of the new initiative.
“The faith initiative will help design new policies that recognize the vital role of faith in our families, our communities, and our great country,” he said.
“This office will also help ensure that faith-based organizations have equal access to government funding and the equal right to exercise their deeply held beliefs.”
During the speech, which fell on the National Day of Prayer, Trump highlighted Jon Ponder, a member of the audience who turned his life around while in prison for bank robbery.
After hearing a Rev. Billy Graham sermon on the radio, Ponder decided that night to dedicate his life to Christ and started spreading the Bible to his fellow inmates. After he was released from prison, he started a ministry that has helped over 2,000 former inmates rejoin society.
“You are a living testament to the power of prayer,” Trump said.
Trump reiterated his administration’s commitment to religious freedom, recalling that he was the first president to address the March for Life in a live video message.
“Our country was founded on prayer. Our communities are sustained by prayer. And our nation will be renewed by hard work, a lot of intelligence, and prayer.”
Andrea Picciotti-Bayer from The Catholic Association praised the executive order for recognizing “the benefit to be had for all when the federal government partners with community and faith-based organizations to care for the needy.”
“People of all faiths, and those with no faith at all, find compassion and professionalism in the care they receive from groups motivated by faith. Today’s executive order hails their work — a wonderful product of the rich religious pluralism of our country.”