June 2021 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

Americans United and more than six dozen national organizations have written to Melissa Rogers, executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, to urge her to restore critical religious-freedom protections and chart a new path forward with even more robust protections.

In the April 30 letter, the organizations observed, “We appreciate the important role religiously affiliated institutions historically have played in addressing many of our nation’s most pressing social needs, as a complement to government-funded programs. Faith-based organizations, like secular organizations, however, should not be allowed to take government funds and then place religious litmus tests on whom they hire, whom they serve, or what services required under the program to provide.”

The letter recommended three specific policy proposals:

• Restore safeguards in social service programs that were stripped by the Trump administration in faith-based regulations: Trump’s regulations removed requirements that people who are receiving taxpayer-funded social services receive notice of their religious freedom rights, including that they could request a referral to another provider if they are uncomfortable with the religious character of the current provider. The Trump regulations also ended the requirement that people who obtain services through a voucher program (known as “indirect aid”) had at least one secular option to choose from. The result: Trump’s rules could lead to people – especially religious minorities and the nonreligious, women and LGBTQ people – foregoing the services they need for fear of religious coercion or because they aren’t informed of their rights. The Biden administration can fix this problem by issuing new regulations that restore the religious-freedom safeguards for people who receive social services. 

• End federally funded employment discrimination: Existing policies allow taxpayer-funded contractors and grantees to use religion to discriminate against their employees. Biden must ensure that no one is denied a government-funded job because he or she belongs to the “wrong” religion.

• Undo policies, memoranda and guidance by the Trump administration that misused federal religious freedom law: Previous administrations issued policies that misused the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to justify religious exemptions to laws that bar discrimination. The Biden White House must rescind these policies and clarify that RFRA cannot be used to violate the civil rights of others. RFRA must be a shield to protect religious freedom, not a sword to allow discrimination. 

The letter was sent under the auspices of the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination, an umbrella group of religious and secular organizations that oppose discrimination in taxpayer-funded faith-based programs. Seventy-seven groups signed on, including the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Union for Reform Judaism, the National Education Association, National Women’s Law Center, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, the NAACP, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the National Council of Churches, the ACLU, Human Rights Campaign, Muslims for Progressive Values, the Unitarian Universalist Association, Catholics for Choice, Hindu American Foundation, American Humanist Association, GLAAD and Americans United.