Forum Becomes Pew's Religion Focus

Article excerpt

When Luis Lugo came to the Philadelphia-based Pew Charitable Trusts in 1997 to direct its religion program, the political science professor from Calvin College clearly indicated that his main interest was to throw more light on religious issues in governmental affairs. Lugo was associate director of the Center for Public Justice in the nation's capital before going to the Calvin campus.

One resulting project was the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, which nimbly tackled moral-political developments in the past three years. The nonpartisan "information clearing house" in Washington struck an ideological balance with journalist E. J. Dionne Jr. and scholar Jean Bethke Elshtain as co-chairs and with attorney Melissa Rogers, its executive director, savvy about First Amendment issues and D.C. politics.

In an unusual move, Lugo will replace Rogers as executive director as of January 1, then gradually make the forum the "signature project'" of Pew's religion grant programs. As some trusts-funded projects are scaled back, Lugo will expand the Pew Forum's scope into religion and international affairs, among other areas, he said.

Though religion funding totaled only 8 percent of the Pew Trusts' philanthropy in 2002, the religion grants still totaled $13.8 million that year.

"The idea is eventually to bring all related efforts under the forum's umbrella, so that in essence it becomes 'the' religion program tat Pew," Lugo told the CENTURY. Even as he moves into home and office in Washington in the summer, be will remain a senior adviser at the trusts on all religion-related issues. "So there is no need for folks to dust off their resumes," Lugo said.

Rogers, in a separate interview, said that leaving the Pew Forum post was her idea. Previously the general counsel for the Baptist Joint Committee, she said she wanted to return to advocacy on religions liberty and church-state separation issues, "It was difficult to keep neutral as the forum's executive director, and the job gave me zero time lot research and writing," Rogers said. …