The Freedom From Religion Foundation is encouraged to see the Biden Administration’s announcement that it proposes restoring religious liberty protections for beneficiaries of federally funded social services. FFRF, along with a coalition of service and advocacy organizations, filed a lawsuit at the end of Trump’s term against eight federal agencies for undoing rules to protect individuals receiving social services from such discrimination.
All proposed rules would roll back discriminatory practices from the Trump administration. Taking these steps would protect beneficiaries by requiring that they be notified of their right to be free from discrimination on the basis of religion, making clear that all covered social service programs may not discriminate on the basis of their religion. The agencies would be encouraged to fund domestic programs that help beneficiaries identify alternative secular service providers in their area if they object to a faith-based provider.
Previously, federal rules had required faith-based organizations providing critical, taxpayer funded services to inform recipients of their legal right to not be discriminated against, not to have to attend religious programming, and to be given the option for a referral to an alternate provider. The rules helped protect the most vulnerable from being forced to attend a bible study or join in a prayer in order to access basic services, such as food or shelter. Under the current rules, those seeking these services may needlessly opt into religious activities or forgo assistance altogether in order to avoid religious coercion.
FFRF’s lawsuit seeks to have the Trump Administration’s rules declared a violation of the Administrative Procedures Act and reverse the rollback of these important protections. In anticipation of the rule changes by the Biden administration, the lawsuit was stayed. The proposed rules underscore the importance of FFRF’s joint lawsuit, and would likely resolve the case if the rules are finalized in their current form.
The relief will not be immediate as the proposal must now go to public comment before adoption, which may take more than three months.
The nine federal agencies affected by Biden’s proposal are: U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Education, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Labor, Veterans Affairs and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
“We are pleased to see this announcement, however belated, which is an excellent way for the administration to mark National Religious Freedom Day on Jan. 16,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Individuals in need of crucial social services deserve to know their rights and to be empowered to protect themselves against discrimination in delivery of taxpayer-funded help.”
FFRF is encouraged by the proposed rules. The national state/church watchdog FFRF will continue to work to ensure that all Americans have access to essential social services without fear of religious discrimination or coercion.