Dec 14, 2020

Americans United for Separation of Church and State President and CEO Rachel Laser issued the following statement denouncing the final rules released today by the Trump administration that roll back nine federal agencies’ regulations that provide protections for people who use federally funded social services. These rules significantly change the existing regulations that govern when the government funds faith-based service providers, putting people who use government services at risk by undermining critical religious freedom and civil rights protections:

“These latest Trump administration rules undermine the civil rights and religious freedom of millions of our country’s most vulnerable people who rely on social services. People should never be forced to choose between obtaining taxpayer-funded services they desperately need and remaining true to their personal religious beliefs and identity. 

“The federal government should prioritize the best interests of people in need, not the interests of service providers who are choosing to receive billions of taxpayer dollars to deliver government services. Instead, the Trump administration is opening the door to government-sponsored discrimination, potentially allowing taxpayer-funded, faith-based providers to use religious litmus tests to turn people away or refuse to provide services. LGBTQ people, women, religious minorities and the nonreligious will bear the burden of these rules. 

“This is a parting ‘gift’ from the lame-duck Trump administration to its Christian nationalist allies, who lobbied hard for these changes. We urge the Biden-Harris administration to immediately start the process of restoring the religious freedom protections that were implemented just four years ago. The Obama-Biden-era regulations were based on the recommendations and comprehensive review of a consensus of interfaith and secular leaders from across the ideological spectrum. Americans United will explore every possible avenue to ensure these new Trump administration rules  are revoked and religious-freedom protections are reinstated as quickly as possible.”

The new regulations affect nine federal departments and agencies: The U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Labor, Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The rules would:

  • Strip away existing protections that require faith-based providers to offer a referral to an alternate provider if people feel unwelcome or uncomfortable because of the religious affiliation, activities or messages of a faith-based organization.
  • Eliminate the requirement that people seeking services be informed of their religious freedom rights, which include that: 
    • they can’t be required to pray or participate in religious activities, 
    • they are entitled to be offered a referral to an alternate provider and 
    • they can file a complaint if their rights are violated.
  • Eliminate the safeguard that ensures that people who use vouchers to get services have at least one secular alternative to faith-based providers to choose from. As a result, taxpayer funds will be used to pay for religious programming without providing people an alternative. This could have the biggest impact on those living in rural areas, where another provider could be miles away or nonexistent.
  • Put the interests of taxpayer-funded religious organizations ahead of the interests of people who seek government services at every turn. The regulations unduly emphasize the religious exercise, mission and independence of faith-based providers and invite those entities to seek religious exemptions. In doing so, the rules are paving the way for providers to refuse to provide key services and opening the door to discrimination in taxpayer-funded programs.

Americans United is a religious freedom advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, AU educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom. Learn more at www.au.org.