This week, nine agencies of the Biden administration announced new rules that would strengthen religious liberty protections for beneficiaries of federally funded social services. The United States Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Education, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Labor, and Veterans Affairs, as well as the United States Agency for International Development, issued the proposed rules, which seek to “ensure that all beneficiaries and potential beneficiaries have access to federally funded services and programs without unnecessary barriers and free from discrimination.”
Among other things, the announced rules would reinstate:
- The requirement that social service providers receiving direct federal funding notify beneficiaries of their right to be free of discrimination on the basic of religion;
- The requirement that faith-based service providers inform beneficiaries of alternate providers if the beneficiary objects to faith-based provider’s religious character;
- The requirement that beneficiaries of indirect federal assistance must have at least one secular option for the use of the indirect assistance
In addition, the rules would rescind a provision added by the Trump administration allowing faith-based service providers to require beneficiaries to attend “all activities that are fundamental to the program,” including religious activities.
BJC General Counsel Holly Hollman praised the proposals as “an important return to religious liberty principles that protect all Americans.” Here’s more from her statement:
Federal agencies have a responsibility to ensure that Americans who qualify for taxpayer-funded social services will not be coerced into participating in religious activities.
Americans who need to access food banks, homeless shelters, elder care facilities or a range of other services should never have to meet some religious requirement to get the help they need. Americans of all religious traditions and nonreligious Americans will be freer to access taxpayer-funded services under these proposed regulations.
Faith-based institutions that provide social services have the same opportunity to apply for and receive federal funding that secular service providers enjoy. But, federal funds rightly come with federal regulations, including those designed to protect taxpayers and ensure that beneficiaries of that aid have full access to services regardless of their faith or whether they choose to practice a faith.
These proposed rules will go through a public comment period before the agencies issue a final rule.
You can learn more about this issue on an upcoming episode of Respecting Religion, the podcast featuring Hollman and BJC Executive Director Amanda Tyler.