Americans United and its allies submitted public comments last month on a series of changes the Biden administration has proposed for faith-based groups that receive taxpayer funding.
The new regulations were unveiled in January. In its comments, AU and a host of other organizations thanked the administration for what it got right and suggested some changes to make the new rules even better.
During the presidencies of George W. Bush and Donald Trump, protections for people who work for and are served by faith-based groups that accept government contracts were eroded. 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 the Trump administration stripped these protections, expanded the exemptions that allow employment discrimination and invited organizations to seek religious exemptions to program requirements.
Biden has proposed rules to re-center people in need, restoring their religious-freedom protections and making it more likely that they can access critical services. The proposed rules 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.
In a letter commenting on the new approach, AU and its allies wrote, “When the government funds faith-based and community-based social service organizations — such as food banks, homeless or domestic violence shelters, job training centers and elder care providers — it must protect the religious freedom of people who use the services and ensure they can get the help they need. We thank the Biden administration for the Proposed Rule, which takes important steps to restore vital protections for program beneficiaries.”