April 2024 Church & State Magazine - April 2024

Americans United hails new federal faith-based regulations


New regulations: Biden rules protect those in need of services (Getty Images)

Americans United has thanked the Biden administration for finalizing rules that reinstate religious freedom protections for people who use federally funded social services, like food banks, homeless and domestic violence shelters, job training and elder care.

“We applaud the Biden administration for restoring religious freedom protections for the millions of often vulnerable and marginalized people who use government-funded social services,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United, in a statement issued on March 1.

“Religious freedom is a foundational American principle,” Laser added. “No one should have to give up their religious freedom in order to have access to critical services. No one should ever be pressured to participate in religious activities or be required to meet a religious litmus test in exchange for the help they need.”

She concluded, “When the government funds vital services, it must ensure these programs are open to people of all faiths and the nonreligious and that religion is not being misused to deny people services or their civil rights. Americans United has worked tirelessly to restore these protections and address other Trump administration policies that undermined church-state separation and transformed religious freedom from a shield that protects people into a sword to harm others. We’re pleased that the Biden administration is rolling back many harmful Trump regulations. While there is more work to be done, these are important steps on the path toward a country that promises freedom without favor and equality without exception.”

The 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 replace Trump administration policies that stripped away religious freedom protections from people who use government-funded social services. The new regulations:

  • 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, and they can file a complaint if their rights are violated.
  • Reinstate safeguards that ensure that people who obtain social services through vouchers are not forced to attend or participate in religious activities.
  • 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.

On Jan. 19, 2021, together with co-counsel Democracy Forward and Lambda Legal, Americans United filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump regulations. The lawsuit, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger v. HHS, asserts that in putting forth the harmful regulations, the Trump administration provided no reasonable explanation for the rule change, failed to account for its harms and failed to consider obvious alternatives to the changes they finalized — all in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. The litigation has been on hold while the Biden administration finalized its new rules.

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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