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 proposed rules that would reinstitute religious freedom protections for people who use federally funded social services, like food banks, homeless or 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.
“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 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, and Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Today’s proposed rules, once finalized, will replace Trump administration policies that stripped away religious freedom protections from people who use government-funded social services. The new regulations would:
- 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.
- 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 January 19, 2021, together with our co-counsel Democracy Forward and Lambda Legal, Americans United filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump regulations: MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger v. HHS. The lawsuit alleges 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.
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