FFRF celebrates finalization of Biden administration’s new faith-related rules

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation is celebrating the finalization of rules that restore vital religious freedom protections for people using government-funded social services.

In 2020, the Trump administration finalized a sweeping rule, which became effective on Jan. 19, 2021, that eliminated common-sense requirements put in place in 2016. Those requirements were the result of a historic effort to reach consensus on how religion and government should interact in the context of federally funded social services. The Trump administration’s rollback unlawfully put the interests of religious organizations, which provide a significant slice of federally funded social services, ahead of the rights and needs of the vulnerable populations they serve.

Previously, federal rules adopted during the Obama administration had required faith-based organizations that provided critical, taxpayer-funded services to inform recipients of their legal right not to 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 rights such as food or shelter. After the Trump-era change, those who sought out these services were at risk of being needlessly guided into religious activities or having to forgo assistance altogether in order to avoid participation.

FFRF and the coalition that sued to correct the 2020 rule are now reviewing Biden’s new regulation, with the hope that the changes fully satisfy their ongoing lawsuit. If so, the lawsuit will be dismissed.

“When the government funds faith-based and community-based social service organizations — such as food banks, homeless or domestic violence shelters, job training centers, and elder care providers — it must protect the religious freedom of people who use the services and ensure that they can get the help they need,” the coalition stated.

“The Trump administration’s perversion of religious freedom continued till, literally, its last day,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We’re determined to ensure that individuals not believing in the majority creed know their rights and are empowered to protect themselves against discrimination and marginalization while receiving vital social services.”

The new rules:

  • Require the written notice, when feasible, to also instruct beneficiaries how to get information about other alternative service providers. The alternative provider requirement was put in place in the Obama rules and stripped in the Trump rules.
  • Eliminate language from the Trump rules that invited claims for religious exemptions and suggested government agencies would be obligated to grant them.
  • Rewrite the definition of “indirect aid” (voucher programs) from the Trump rules to better align with constitutional requirements to ensure beneficiaries have genuine private choice of providers and eliminate language from the Trump rules stating that providers in voucher programs can require people in voucher programs to participate in religious activities.

“These new rules will greatly help improve life further for secular Americans,” says Gaylor. “They are a win for true religious liberty!”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with almost 40,000 members across the country, including members in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. FFRF works to protect the constitutional separation between state and church, and educates about nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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