Trump Will Get Rid of Religious Freedom Protections at Ten Federal Agencies December 15, 2020

Trump Will Get Rid of Religious Freedom Protections at Ten Federal Agencies

As it heads for the exits, the Trump administration is still making sure Christian bigotry is at the forefront of everything they do. Yesterday, they loosened restrictions that, until now, made sure religious groups receiving taxpayer money to provide social services don’t shove their religion in the faces of the people they’re supposed to be helping.

The change affects nine different federal agencies, and the Trump administration said the new rules would now allow for more religious groups to participate in the programs… because they wouldn’t have the restrictions that kept them secular.

Here’s what the new rules would do:

Right now, faith-based service providers have to refer clients elsewhere if the people say they feel uncomfortable with their religious affiliation. That’s now gone.

Right now, any clients are required to be told about their religious freedom rights. They’re told they don’t have to participate in any religious activities, they are entitled to go to an alternative service provider, and they can file a complaint if necessary. That’s now gone.

Right now, if clients receive a voucher for social services, there must be a secular provider in addition to any religious providers. That requirement is now gone… which means there may be no secular options for some people.

Finally, to quote Americans United for Separation of Church and State President and CEO Rachel Laser, “the rules are paving the way for providers to refuse to provide key services and opening the door to discrimination in taxpayer-funded programs.”

“The federal government should prioritize the best interests of people in need, not the interests of service providers who are choosing to receive billions of taxpayer dollars to deliver government services. Instead, the Trump administration is opening the door to government-sponsored discrimination, potentially allowing taxpayer-funded, faith-based providers to use religious litmus tests to turn people away or refuse to provide services. LGBTQ people, women, religious minorities and the nonreligious will bear the burden of these rules.

This is a parting ‘gift’ from the lame-duck Trump administration to its Christian nationalist allies, who lobbied hard for these changes. We urge the Biden-Harris administration to immediately start the process of restoring the religious freedom protections that were implemented just four years ago. The Obama-Biden-era regulations were based on the recommendations and comprehensive review of a consensus of interfaith and secular leaders from across the ideological spectrum. Americans United will explore every possible avenue to ensure these new Trump administration rules are revoked and religious-freedom protections are reinstated as quickly as possible.

American Atheists also condemned the new rules, which will go into effect on January 16, which ironically happens to be “Religious Freedom Day.”

“Once again, the Trump Administration is hijacking Religious Freedom Day to strip away religious freedom protections from everyday Americans in order to favor religious special interests. The irony is palpable,” said Alison Gill, Vice President for Legal and Policy at American Atheists.

“No person in need should be forced to worship as a religious service provider does or convert to that religion simply to access basic, taxpayer-funded services,” said Nick Fish, president of American Atheists. “The common-sense protections the Obama Administration put in place were not an ‘attack’ on religious freedom. These new regulations, on the other hand, are.”

“Starting on day one of the Biden Administration, we will work with the new leadership at these departments and agencies to fix these discriminatory changes that undermine Americans’ religious liberties,” Fish added.

Affected by the new rules are: The U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Labor, Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

All of this comes a week after the Department of Labor instituted new regulations that would allow religious discrimination in federally funded workplaces, a move that will likely affect LGBTQ people and non-Christians.

The Biden administration can undo all this — and they should — but it won’t (can’t) happen overnight. Which is why the Trump administration is making sure the rules go into effect just days before Biden’s inauguration.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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