Last month, the Trump administration loosened restrictions at nine different agencies that, until now, made sure religious groups receiving taxpayer money to provide social services didn’t shove their religion in the faces of the people they’re supposed to be helping. It was now possible for discriminatory religious groups to push their bigoted views on unsuspecting victims on the taxpayers’ dime.
The new rules meant that faith-based service providers no longer had to refer clients elsewhere if those people were uncomfortable with the group’s religious affiliation. Clients no longer had to be told about their religious freedom rights, or that they didn’t have to participate in any religious activities, or that they were entitled to go to an alternative service provider, or that they could file a complaint if necessary. The rules also eliminated the requirements that secular social service providers had to be available whenever religious ones were for clients using vouchers; in other words, there no longer needed to be secular options in certain situations.
The rules went into effect last last week. The Biden administration can undo them — and they should — but it won’t (can’t) happen overnight.
In the meantime, a coalition of civil rights groups including American Atheists and the Freedom From Religion Foundation are suing the Trump administration for rolling back those religious freedom protections.
On its last day in power, the Trump administration shredded important religious freedom and nondiscrimination protections for many of America’s most vulnerable populations and made it harder for them to access taxpayer-funded services in the midst of a pandemic and severe economic downturn.
The outgoing administration’s new rule unlawfully curtails the religious freedom and nondiscriminatory access to services of people seeking to obtain food, shelter, and other essential, federally funded services from faith-based organizations. The Trump administration’s last-minute rule abandons common-sense and widely agreed-upon requirements of religious organizations receiving taxpayer funding to provide these services for the general public.
The lawsuit also notes that the rules were arbitrary and never justified. The administration never offered any rationale for changing these rules, suggesting it was simply an overture to the most bigoted members of the Republican Party’s base. They also never publicly accounted for the harm this change would cause or considered any other alternatives, violating the law.
The plaintiffs just want the courts to declare the 2020 rule “Arbitrary and Capricious in Violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.” In a way, that’s saying the Trump administration should be punished for its own incompetency. Had they followed the law in their attempt to promote Christian Nationalism, a different argument would have to be in play here; instead, these groups are just telling a judge the Trump administration couldn’t follow the rules, therefore the changes they put forth are invalid.
Again, the Biden administration could take steps to reverse all this. That takes time. But for now, the quickest route to reversing what Trump did goes right through the courts.