The Biden administration is proposing a big change to protect religious freedom: It has proposed new regulations for nine federal agencies that will protect people who are accessing social services, including making sure they will not be pressured to participate in religious activities. And AU and our allies just weighed in by submitting public comments that thank the administration for what it got right and suggesting some changes to make the new rules even better.
Since the 1990s, AU and the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination (CARD) – a coalition AU leads and that comprises 50+ national organizations – have worked to ensure that rules that apply to government partnerships with religious and other nonprofit social service providers include strong constitutional and legal safeguards.
AU Opposes Discrimination In Services
We believe that when faith-based organizations partner with the government to provide social services like a homeless shelter or an elder care program, they should follow the same rules as secular organizations. Faith-based organizations should not be allowed to take government funds and then pressure people they serve to participate in religious activities, place religious litmus tests on whom they serve and hire or refuse to provide services required under the program.
To understand the importance of Biden’s proposed regulations around faith-based organizations, we need to remember the history and how we got here. In the early 2000s, President George W. Bush’s administration adopted a series of regulations that significantly changed the way the federal government partnered with faith-based social service providers, such as World Vision, Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army.
The controversial rules allowed providers to discriminate in hiring with government dollars and undermined many of the church-state protections that had existed in these programs. The administration of President Barack Obama offered improvements to the Bush-era rules, adding new religious freedom protections for people, often vulnerable and marginalized, who use government-funded social services. But President Donald Trump stripped these protections, expanded the exemptions that allow employment discrimination and invited organizations to seek religious exemptions to program requirements.
Biden Rule Brings Positive Change
That brings us to today. President Joe Biden has proposed a rule to re-center people in need, restoring their religious freedom protections and making it more likely that they can access critical services. The proposed rule will help ensure that people who rely on social services will not be pressured to participate in religious activities or be required to meet a religious litmus test in exchange for obtaining the help they need.
When the government funds social service programs, it must ensure that the programs are open to people of all faiths and nonreligious people, and that religion is not used to deny people services or their civil rights protections. The proposed rules, once finalized, will replace Trump-era policies that stripped away religious freedom protections from people who use these services.
These changes are critically important, and AU and CARD highlighted that in our comments. We also proposed additional changes that will further strengthen the rule so that it better protects religious freedom and equality for all. More than 50 groups signed the CARD comments including: Humans Right Campaign, the Baptist Joint Committee, Family Equality, ACLU, Center for American Progress, National Education Association, Planned Parenthood, American Atheists and National Women’s Law Center. You can read our comments here and the CARD comments, with the full list of signers, here.
We’ll be sure to keep you up to date on all our regulatory work to advance the separation of church and state!