Magazine article Church & State

Reckless RULES: New Trump Administration 'Faith-Based' Regulations Promote Discrimination and Threaten Rights, Americans United Says

Magazine article Church & State

Reckless RULES: New Trump Administration 'Faith-Based' Regulations Promote Discrimination and Threaten Rights, Americans United Says

Article excerpt

When it comes to private social service agencies that seek taxpayer money, the government's first priority is supposed to be the best interests of the vulnerable people who need those services.

With a series of regulations proposed in January and February, the Trump administration is proposing to flip that bedrock principle on its head and instead prioritize the religious beliefs of faith-based organizations, to the detriment of the people they serve.

On Jan. 16--National Religious Freedom Day, no less--eight federal agencies issued proposed regulations that would roll back religious freedom protections for people who rely on services provided by faith-based social-service agencies that receive billions in taxpayer dollars. Similar regulations from a ninth agency were released on Feb. 13.

"These rules undermine the civil rights and religious freedom of millions of our most vulnerable Americans who rely on social services with particularly dire consequences for LGBTQ people and religious minorities," said AU President and CEO Rachel Laser in a statement that was reported by the Associated Press, ABC News, Fox News and others.

"No one should be denied the help they need because their government-funded provider condemns who they are, who they love, or what they believe," Laser added.

One of the protections the Trump regulations would eliminate is the requirement that social service agencies take reasonable steps to refer people to alternative providers if requested. This protection ensures that people have other options if a faith-based provider signals religious beliefs that make the beneficiary uncomfortable or are offensive to the beneficiary. Eliminating this protection means that people may be forced into the untenable situation of choosing between their personal religious beliefs and receiving vital help they need.

The Trump administration also proposes to strip the requirement that faith-based organizations must provide written notice of people's religious freedom rights--which could result in those in need not knowing they can object to discrimination, proselytization or religious coercion.

For people who receive social services through a voucher program (referred to as "indirect aid"), Trump proposed to eliminate the safeguard ensuring there is always at least one secular provider to choose from. This rollback greatly increases the likelihood that people will be forced to attend taxpayer-funded programs that include explicitly religious content.

Traditionally, the government permitted some faith-based providers in voucher programs to include religious content because people theoretically had a choice of using a voucher at either a secular or a faith-based program and could, therefore, opt out of a religious program while still receiving comparable services elsewhere. The administration is undercutting this justification by removing the requirement that there be a secular option--again forcing vulnerable people to choose between their religious beliefs and receiving critical services.

The new regulations also would give taxpayer-funded providers more leeway to discriminate against employees by using a religious litmus test when considering who to hire or fire. The Trump administration proposes to expand religious exemptions created by President George W. Bush, which allowed faith-based agencies to discriminate by hiring only people of the same religion, to now include discrimination against people who don't live by the same religious tenets or practice their faith the same way. LGBTQ people and women are likely to face the most harm from this proposal. This change is similar to a rule proposed by Trump's Department of Labor last August for federal contractors, who employ one-fifth of the U.S. workforce.

One other significant element of Trump's proposed regulations is to add special notices to grant announcements and awards alerting faith-based organizations that they can seek additional, unspecified religious exemptions from federal laws and regulations. …

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