“Faith-based” groups that contract with the federal government must not use public funds for sectarian activities, the Obama administration announced in August.
The new regulations dictate that individuals who receive services from publicly funded faith-based organizations must be notified of their First Amendment rights. In addition, the administration has clarified which services a faith-based group may provide with public funds. Bible studies and other explicitly sectarian services, for example, must be privately funded. Services supported by public funds must remain secular.
This clarification is in line with a 2010 Obama administration memo on religious freedom. But the regulations do not address the issue of hiring discrimination by faith-based groups.
That omission troubles First Amendment advocacy groups like Americans United, which have long criticized the legality of hiring discrimination by publicly funded groups as a violation of the separation of church and state.
Americans United applauded the administration for its decision to clarify the regulations.
“When you decide to apply for government funds to deliver social services, there are strings attached,” said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “These proposed regulations should go a long way toward ensuring that taxpayer-funded organizations abide by the Constitution. By doing so, the regulations will ensure those who seek services won’t be kicked out of a homeless shelter or a drug treatment class because they don’t want to pray or listen to preaching.”
Lynn had served on a taskforce advising the White House on faith-based regulation reform.