Fighting Discrimination

AU’s Top 10 Of 2021: Challenging Trump-Era Policies In Court

  Liz Hayes

Editor’s Note: The year 2021 was full of ups and downs – for the country, and for church-state separation. As the year draws to a close, we’re looking back at the top 10 church-state stories, how Americans United rose to the challenge to defend religious freedom and what’s on the horizon for 2022.

On yesterday’s blog, we shared several Trump-era policies that were harmful to religious freedom that the Biden administration has already reversed or rescinded – items that AU included in its “Agenda to Restore & Protect Religious Freedom.”

Much of what the Biden administration has not yet fixed on the church-state front, Americans United is working in the courts to address:

  • Mazon v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: This case is one of two that AU and allies filed in January on the last day that Trump was in office. A coalition of service and advocacy groups challenged the rollback of religious freedom protections that required faith-based organizations providing critical, taxpayer-funded services (like food and shelter) to inform recipients of their legal rights to be free from discrimination, not to have to attend religious programming and to have the opportunity to get a referral for an alternative provider. No one should be turned away from desperately needed programs because of their religious beliefs or forced to pray or participate in religious programs in order to get vital services. (The fact that President Joe Biden restructured the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and appointed Melissa Rogers, a longtime church-state separation advocate who led the office when the Obama administration put many of these protections in place, is a good sign.)
  • Secular Student Alliance v. U.S. Department of Education: AU and American Atheists challenged a regulation that forced universities and their students to financially support religious student groups that discriminate. The new rule required public colleges and universities to exempt religious student clubs from nondiscrimination provisions that apply to all other student clubs that are officially recognized by the colleges and funded by activity fees paid by all students. (In August, the Biden administration announced the Education Department was reviewing and anticipates rescinding parts of the regulation.)
  • Denial of Care Rule Lawsuits: Trump’s Denial of Care Rule invited virtually any health care worker – doctors, surgeons, nurses, receptionists, orderlies – to deny care to any patient, no matter how dire the patient’s medical needs, based on personal religious or moral objections. Americans United and allies filed two federal lawsuits to challenge the rule in 2019. A federal court blocked the rule from going into effect, but the lawsuits continue while the rule is still on the books.
  • Irish 4 Reproductive Health v. HHS: This lawsuit, filed by AU, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the National Women’s Law Center on behalf of Notre Dame students, challenges a Trump rule that allows employers and universities to cite religious or moral objections to deny workers and students access to birth control guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Supreme Court in 2020 gave the Trump administration broad authority to enact sweeping exemptions to the law, but the issues raised in this lawsuit are still being litigated. During his candidacy, Biden pledged to rescind this Trump rule and restore access to critical reproductive health care.

Americans United is committed to working on multiple fronts – with the administration, in courts, in Congress and in communities – to restore and protect religious freedom as the right for everyone to live as themselves and believe as they choose, and to ensure religion is not used as a license to harm others. Join us!

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