Trump Administration Proposes Rules to Ensure Equal Treatment of Faith-Based Groups

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 29: (AFP-OUT) Alex Azar attends his swearing in to become the new Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services on January 29, 2018 at The White House in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images)
Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images

The U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Homeland Security (DHS) proposed rules Thursday that would implement President Donald Trump’s executive order that protects the religious freedom of faith-based organizations.

The proposed rules, announced on Religious Freedom Day, would ensure religious and secular groups are treated equally and rescind Obama-era rules currently in force that place regulatory burdens on faith-based organizations.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a press statement:

President Trump’s administration is taking historic action to protect religious social service providers from discrimination in federal regulations. Americans of faith play an essential role in providing healthcare and human services to so many vulnerable people and communities, and President Trump is dedicated to removing every unfair barrier that stands in the way of this important work. Americans from every walk of life deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Our Constitution and civil rights laws ensure equal treatment and today’s action makes clear that the federal government cannot discriminate against people and institutions based on how they live out the dictates of their faith.

Similarly, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad F. Wolf said:

On behalf of DHS, I would like to thank the president for his leadership in helping to reverse the previous administration’s requirements discriminating against religious organizations by saddling them with unique regulatory burdens. Our proposed rule recognizes that religious organizations are valuable partners in the federal government’s efforts to support the public with needed social services, and that they deserve every chance to compete equally on a level playing field for federal funding and not discriminated against simply because of their religious affiliation.

The proposed rules remove, for example, the Obama-era requirement that religious providers of services must make referrals to alternative service providers and under a separate procedure that is publicly noted.

Additionally, the proposed rules clarify that religious groups participating in agency-supported programs may continue to act in accord with their faith beliefs, independent of the government, and in keeping with their First Amendment rights under the Constitution.

For example, the Obama administration gave “sexual orientation” special anti-discrimination protections, but the Trump administration proposed rules would enable faith-based adoption agencies that receive federal funding under an HHS grant to place children only in homes with a married mother and father, consistent with their faith beliefs.

“I commend the Trump administration for protecting faith-based social service providers from discrimination based on their sincerely-held religious beliefs,” Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said in a statement. “President Trump recognizes that Americans of faith play an essential role in providing healthcare and human services to many vulnerable people and communities.”

As Fox News reported, Tony Perkins, Family Research Council president, said, “Thanks to President Trump, charities will be free to care for needy children and operate according to their religious beliefs and the reality that children do best in a home with a married mom and dad.”

The DHS proposed rule would also provide religious freedom protections to groups that participate in its programs, such as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA).

“I applaud President Trump for removing every unfair barrier that stands in the way of religious freedom,” Staver said. “In the same way, Thomas Jefferson and our Founders recognized the importance of religious freedom and they created our Constitution to protect that priceless possession.”

However, according to the Fox News report, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said the Trump administration was working to “implement cruel and discriminatory policies, and wasting taxpayer dollars in its obsessive pursuit.”

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