Americans United for Separation of Church and State President and CEO Rachel Laser issued the following statement today in response to the Biden administration’s proposal to rescind parts of the Trump administration’s Denial of Care Rule, which invited health care workers to deny medical treatment and services to patients because of personal religious or moral beliefs:
“We applaud the Biden administration for taking positive steps toward protecting both religious freedom and patients’ health by rescinding the Trump-era Denial of Care Rule. No one should be denied medical treatment because of someone else’s religious beliefs.
“The Denial of Care Rule was a dangerous policy that weaponized religious freedom and put the health and lives of women, LGBTQ people, religious minorities and so many others in jeopardy. Today’s proposed rule recognizes the potential harm to patients and upholds the fundamental principle of church-state separation.”
The Denial of Care Rule which was issued in May 2019 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under former President Donald Trump. It invited any health care worker to deny medical care to patients because of the health care worker’s personal religious or moral beliefs. Health care facilities risked losing essential federal funding unless they granted employees carte blanche to deny services. That risk could have forced many health care facilities to eliminate services such as reproductive and LGBTQ care. Federal courts had blocked the rule from going into effect.
Americans United and allies filed two federal lawsuits challenging the Denial of Care Rule, arguing that HHS during the Trump administration exceeded its authority and arbitrarily and capriciously failed to consider the rule’s potential harm to patients and the health care system, in violation of the federal Administrative Procedure Act. We also argued that the rule was unconstitutional because it favored specific religious beliefs in violation of the First Amendment; violated patients’ rights to privacy, liberty and equal dignity as guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment; and chilled patients’ speech and expression in violation of the First Amendment, all to the detriment of patients’ health and well-being.
- In the County of Santa Clara v. HHS, Americans United joined the Center for Reproductive Rights, Lambda Legal, the law firm Mayer Brown LLP and Santa Clara County, Calif., which runs an extensive public health and hospital system that serves as a safety-net provider for the county’s 1.9 million Bay Area residents. Other plaintiffs in the case include providers across the country that focus on reproductive and LGBTQ care, plus five doctors and three medical associations. In Nov. 2019, the district court granted summary judgment in our favor on our Administrative Procedure Act claims, vacating the rule in its entirety.
- In Mayor and City Council of Baltimore v. Azar, Americans United joined the Baltimore City Solicitor and the law firm Susman Godfrey LLP to represent the Baltimore City Health Department, which has strived to ensure that vulnerable and historically marginalized people can seek medical care without fear of stigmatization or discrimination. After other federal district courts blocked the Denial of Care Rule, the district court held this case in abeyance pending the government’s appeals.
More information about those lawsuits is available here.
Americans United is a religious freedom advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, AU educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.
Associate Vice President of Communications