Religious Minorities

We’re Halfway Into The Biden Presidency. How’s He Doing On Church-State Separation?

  Rob Boston

We’ve reached the midway point of Joe Biden’s presidency. It’s a good time to ask how he’s doing when it comes to the separation of church and state.

His record is pretty impressive, actually. Let’s look at some highlights:

Biden is ditching the Trump administration’s noxious “Denial of Care Rule.”

This Trump-era rule invited health care workers to deny medical treatment and services to patients because of personal religious or moral beliefs. The rule weaponized religious freedom and put the health and lives of women, LGBTQ people, religious minorities and so many others in jeopardy.

The Biden administration has proposed getting rid of the most problematic parts of the Denial of Care Rule, an important step that will ensure that Americans get the health care they need and deserve free from religious interference. (Biden also supports legal abortion as a critical component of health care.)

Biden believes people in need should not be subjected to unwanted proselytism.

The Biden administration has issued proposed rules that would reinstitute religious freedom protections for people who use federally funded social services, like food banks, homeless or domestic violence shelters, job training and elder care. This is another important repeal of a reckless Trump-era policy designed to placate Christian Nationalists.

The proposed new rules, which will affect nine federal agencies and departments would reinstate the requirement that people seeking services be informed of their religious freedom rights, which include that:

  • They can’t be discriminated against because of their religion or because they are nonreligious;
  • They can’t be required to pray or participate in religious activities;
  • They can file a complaint if their rights are violated.

The new rules would also eliminate Trump-era provisions that were designed to allow social service providers to refuse to provide key services and that were intended to open the door to discrimination in taxpayer-funded programs.

It’s also worth noting that Trump put Paula White, a rapacious TV preacher, in charge of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships. Biden appointed Melissa Rogers, a respected author, educator and advocate of church-state separation, to that slot.

The Biden administration supports public education.

Trump put Betsy DeVos, a private school voucher advocate who had no history of working in public education and who was, in fact, hostile to public schools, in charge of the U.S. Department of Education, after Jerry Falwell Jr. turned down the job. Biden’s education secretary is Miguel Cardona, a veteran classroom teacher and administrator in Connecticut’s public schools. Under Cardona, the department has stopped emphasizing voucher plans and privatization schemes.

The Biden administration has also proposed ending a federally funded voucher program in Washington, D.C. The plan, a boondoggle that costs $20 million per year, has not boosted student academic performance.

Biden’s judicial appointments aren’t being screened by Christian Nationalists.

One of a president’s most important jobs is to work in consultation with the U.S. Senate to nominate federal judges, who serve for life. Many of Trump’s appointments were screened by extreme groups like the Federalist Society and have proven hostile to church-state separation. Biden is giving the country a much better quality of judges. They’re more diverse, too, NPR recently reported, The Senate confirmed 97 federal judges during President Biden’s first two years in office, setting records for the sheer numbers of jurists and their diversity.”

The Biden administration embraces the nation’s diversity and doesn’t engage in crude Islamophobia.

Biden, our nation’s second Catholic president, is personally a religious man, but he respects the country’s diversity. A good example is found in Biden’s 2023 Religious Freedom Day Proclamation, which says in part, “This religious freedom – this freedom to practice religion fully and freely or to practice no religion at all – is enshrined in our Constitution.  And together we must continue to preserve and protect it.”

Biden has condemned the appalling wave of antisemitism sweeping the country, and his administration has rejected the Islamophobic rhetoric of the Trump years. On his first day in office, Biden issued an executive order revoking Trump’s misguided Muslim Ban.

Biden supports LGBTQ rights.

Under Trump, LGBTQ rights took a severe hit. The administration implemented policies designed to expose LGBTQ Americans to discrimination and banned those who are transgender from serving in the military. The Biden administration has reversed these policies and has assured the LGBTQ community that it stands with them.

The Biden administration rejects Christian Nationalism.

Trump surrounded himself with an Evangelical Advisory Board, many of whose members were extreme Christian Nationalists. They excused his crude behavior, and many of them stood by Trump, even after he incited a mob to attack the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Such extremism has found no safe harbor in the Biden White House.

No administration is perfect, and Biden’s is no exception. There’s much more work to be done, and AU is in the thick of it. But compared to where we were in, say, January of 2020, the difference is nothing short of stark – and welcome.

Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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