The White House has appointed church-state law expert Melissa Rogers to be the new director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and special assistant to the president.
"I'm honored to be able to serve President Obama by forging and promoting a wide range of effective partnerships with faith-based and secular nonprofits that help people in need," said Rogers in a statement announcing her appointment Wednesday.
Rogers, who was the first chair of the first Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, will provide spiritual support to Obama and work with faith-based organizations to advance social goals. She replaces Rev. Joshua Dubois who stepped down last month after four years at Obama's side.
"Melissa will work to advance the president's vision by promoting partnerships that serve the common good in ways that respect church-state separation and religious freedom," a White House official said in a statement.
"Like President Obama, Melissa believes that government and religious organizations can partner to promote the common good, but that government should not promote religion or become excessively entangled with it."
Rogers will continue to be a member of the faith-based Advisory Council to Obama, which includes ecumenical leaders like Rev. Peg Chemberlin, former president of the National Council of Churches of Christ USA.
Until recently, Rogers served director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University Divinity School. She also taught courses on on church-state relations and Christianity and public policy within the divinity school.
Roger's past experience included serving as the executive director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and a lawyer for the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.
The 47-year-old Rogers joins the Obama administration with several First Amendment issues facing the office.
While Rogers has supported exemptions for religious organizations for controversial topics like same-sex marriage and the contraception mandate in Obamacare, at the same time she has strongly objected to allowing religious organizations to hire employees based on their religion for federally-funded programs.
Dubois, who was Obama's personal pastor and known to send Scripture devotionals to the president every day, called Rogers "an excellent and truly visionary choice."
In a statement Wednesday, Dubois said she played a critical role in the implementation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and enactment of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. He also recognized Rogers' ability to bring a diverse coalition of faith-based and nonprofit leaders to consensus on critical church/state and social service issues during her term as chair of the first-ever Presidential Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships in President Obama's first term.
Dubois also described his friend Rogers as "a committed Christian and lifelong Baptist," saying she is active in her local church, teaches Bible study, and a volunteer with the church food pantry and church nursery. "She truly cherishes the role of people of all faiths and belief in American public life," he added.
The White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships was established in 2001 by former President George W. Bush, in part to provide federal grants for social services to religious groups.