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Published On: Fri, Jan 17th, 2020

Trump moves to cut more Obama era rules at HHS, ending religious discrimination regulations

On this Religious Freedom Day, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is proposing a rule that implements President Trump’s executive order that removes current regulatory burdens on religious organizations and ensures that religious and non-religious organizations are treated equally in HHS-supported programs. This rule protects HHS-supported religious social service providers from discrimination in federal regulations and it guides all federal administrative agencies and executive departments in compliance with federal law.
Donald trump cartoon donkeyhotey

Trump caricature by donkeyhotey

HHS’s proposed rule would eliminate current discriminatory regulations, enacted by former President Obama, that require only religious providers of social services to make referrals under certain circumstances to alternative service providers and post notices regarding this referral procedure. However, as HHS’s proposed rule observes, these burdens were not required by any applicable law, and because they were imposed only on religious social service providers, they are in opposition with recent Supreme Court precedent regarding nondiscrimination against religious organizations. The proposed rule also will foreclose other unequal treatment of religious organizations by ensuring that they are not required to provide assurances or notices that are not required of secular organizations.

In addition, the proposed rule will clarify that religious organizations may apply for awards on the same basis as any other organization and that when HHS selects award recipients, HHS will not discriminate based on an organization’s religious character. The proposed rule also clarifies that religious organizations participating in HHS-supported programs retain their independence from the government and may continue to carry out their missions consistent with religious freedom protections in federal law, including the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment.
lady justice with scales

photo/ Sang Hyun Cho

This announcement is appropriately made on Religious Freedom Day, celebrated in America each year on January 16 to commemorate the anniversary of the passing of the 1786 passage of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom that ended the state-established church in Virginia, finally protecting religious rights for all people. The Anglicans had fined, persecuted, jailed and murdered Christians who were not part of the state-established church. However, Jefferson, a fervent advocate for the rights of religious liberty and conscience, worked hard to defend those Christians.
In his draft, Jefferson wrote: “Almighty God hath created the mind free, and…all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments…tend only to begat habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do so, but to extend it by its influence on reason alone.” In his second inaugural address in 1805, Jefferson wrote: “In matters of religion I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the Constitution independent of the powers of the General Government.”
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “I commend the Trump administration for protecting faith-based social service providers from discrimination based on their sincerely-held religious beliefs. President Trump recognizes that Americans of faith play an essential role in providing healthcare and human services to many vulnerable people and communities. I applaud President Trump for removing every unfair barrier that stands in the way of religious freedom. 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,” said Staver.

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