December 2019 Church & State Magazine - December 2019

Driving Discrimination: U.S. Department Of Health And Human Services Proposes New Rule Allowing Bias Against LGBTQ Americans And Others

  Rob Boston

President Donald Trump struck another blow against the LGBTQ community, religious minorities and others while placating his Religious Right allies Nov. 1 when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a proposed new rule that would repeal key non-discrimination provisions across all agency programs.

The rule was interpreted in the media as mainly an attempt to allow taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care agencies to refuse to work with people who fail to meet a strict religious litmus test, namely LGBTQ people and religious minorities.

The rule does that, but it has a much broader reach because it applies to all programs administered by HHS. The department is a sprawling agency that sponsors more than 100 programs dealing with issues such as homelessness, senior care, refugee resettlement, public health and emergency housing. Potentially millions of Americans could be harmed if they are denied critical services because of this rule.

Americans United was quick to condemn the proposal.

“This proposed rule marks a new low in the Trump administration’s efforts to license discrimination against religious minorities and LGBTQ people,” said Americans United President and CEO Rachel Laser in a statement to the media. “The rule would directly and gravely harm some of our nation’s most vulnerable people – children in foster care, senior citizens and youth experiencing homelessness. When it comes to discrimination based on religion, the Trump administration is saying it’s OK to ignore the Constitution. It’s never OK and we will continue to fight to uphold our core American value of religious freedom.”

The move marks yet another Trump salvo against members of the LGBTQ community and religious minorities. Federal laws already ban discrimination in many HHS programs on the grounds of race and national origin, and in some cases religion and gender. Near the end of his term, President Barack Obama issued an order extending those anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ Americans as well. If enacted, the new HHS rule will wipe those out.

LGBTQ rights groups blasted the proposal, arguing it will mean fewer families for children in the foster care system.

“Children should never be denied the opportunity to join a stable, loving family – even if that means the family is LGBTQ,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, in a media statement. “Research has shown LGBTQ families provide the same kind of love, protection, and support as other families, and no child should be denied that kind of environment.

During a Nov. 1 phone call with reporters, Christina Wilson Remlin, an attorney with the group Children’s Rights, noted that studies show that same-sex couples are much more likely to be raising adopted or foster children than opposite-sex couples.

Americans United Litigation Counsel Carmen Longoria-Green also spoke to reporters on the call about a related case challenging discrimination in taxpayer-funded foster care. Earlier this year, AU sued HHS and officials in South Carolina on behalf of Aimee Maddonna, a Roman Catholic woman who wanted to volunteer at a foster care agency in Greenville. The taxpayer-funded agency, Miracle Hill Ministries, turned Maddonna away, saying it would work with evangelical Protestants only.

Commenting on the new HHS rule, AU Legal Director Richard B. Katskee said, “The Trump administration’s latest proposal would harm countless people across the country like Aimee Maddonna and the children in foster care whom she wanted to help. Our government should be protecting our nation’s most vulnerable people, not putting them at greater risk. We should be able to count on the administration to protect us from discrimination, not license it.” (For more on the Maddon­na case, see “Fostering Discrimination,” April 2019 Church & State.)

During the 2016 campaign, Trump promised to be a champion of LGBTQ rights. But Trump, who was elected with massive support from white evangelicals, quickly discarded that vow once in office. Americans United maintains that rules like this expose Trump for what he really is: a destroyer, not an advocate, of equality and fairness for all Americans.      


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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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