The Biden administration last month issued proposed rules that would reinstitute religious freedom protections for people who use federally funded social services, such as food banks, homeless or domestic violence shelters, job training and elder care — services that are often provided by religious organizations using taxpayer funding.
The proposed rules, once finalized, will replace Trump administration policies that stripped away religious freedom protections from people who use these services.
The new regulations would reinstate a requirement that people seeking services be informed of their religious freedom rights, including 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 have the right to file a complaint if their rights are violated.
In addition, the new rules will ensure that people who obtain social services through vouchers are not forced to attend or participate in religious activities; they also eliminate Trump-era provisions that were designed to allow social service providers to refuse to provide key services and open the door to discrimination in taxpayer-funded programs.
Americans United welcomed the changes, which were announced Jan. 12.
“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 Americans United President and CEO Rachel Laser in a statement. “Religious freedom is a foundational American principle. No one should have to give up their religious freedom in order to get 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.
“These proposed regulations,” Laser added, “are an important step toward protecting religious freedom for all. 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.”
The proposed 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.