Biden rolls back Trump-era protections on religious liberty

Biden administration rescinds more Trump-era religious protections

by Chris Lange

Chris Lange, FISM News

 

Several Biden administration agencies recently finalized new rules on religious liberty protections affecting social service organizations that receive federal funds.

The regulations, which administration officials say will produce more equitable outcomes for service beneficiaries, rescind Trump-era protections for faith-based organizations, including religious exemption protections.

It also reverses Trump’s repeal of an Obama-era requirement that organizations provide beneficiaries with written information about alternative services. This means that pro-life pregnancy help centers that receive federal funds will be forced to provide women in crisis pregnancies with information about where to get an abortion.

Faith-based groups will also be barred from withholding services based on religious affiliation, and they will not be allowed to require beneficiaries to participate in “religious activities” to receive help.

“Today’s announcement establishes uniform policies to safeguard Americans from religious discrimination in social services,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement announcing the rule finalization. “These regulations aim to guarantee broad access to essential social services for eligible individuals, reinforcing awareness of religious liberty protections.”

Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, applauded the news.

“Religious freedom is a foundational American principle. No one should have to give up their religious freedom in order to have access to critical services,” Laser wrote in a press statement. “No one should ever be pressured to participate in religious activities or be required to meet a religious litmus test in exchange for the help they need.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) hailed the new regulations as a victory for equity in a press release. The organization, which sued to reverse Trump’s rule in 2020, said that the new rule means that individuals are no longer “at risk of being needlessly guided into religious activities or having to forgo assistance altogether in order to avoid participation.”

“The Trump administration’s perversion of religious freedom continued till, literally, its last day,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said inin the release. “We’re determined to ensure that individuals not believing in the majority creed know their rights and are empowered to protect themselves against discrimination and marginalization while receiving vital social services.”

The 187-page rule responds to President Joe Biden’s February 2021 executive order establishing the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and will go into effect on April 3, according to the Federal Registrar.  

It was issued by the following departments: HHS, Agriculture, Education, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Labor, Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION’S RECORD OF DISDAIN FOR CHRISTIANS

President Biden declared in a January 2024 statement on Religious Freedom Day that his administration “is working tirelessly to protect and preserve the right to freedom of religion for everyone everywhere.” 

His actions, however, appear to tell a different story.

Biden’s Department of Health and Human Services in November 2023 proposed a rule that would allow foster care agencies to deny child placements to couples who refuse to refer to the child by his or her preferred gender and pronouns.

Last month, the Department of Education announced a proposal to rescind a Trump-era policy allowing the federal government to pull funding from colleges and universities that restrict religious student groups’ speech and/or activities. 

The Department also issued a directive that educational institutions, including private Christian schools, must establish LGBTQ rights policies or risk losing federal funds for school meal programs.

In 2021, Biden’s Justice Department decided to drop a lawsuit against a federally funded hospital that forced nurses to assist in elective abortions over their religious objections, as reported by CBN News. The outlet also reported on a leaked 2021 internal memo from the Department of Health and Human Services revealing plans to rescind religious protections under Trump’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and “sign delegation of authority on the [RFRA] and religion clause of the First Amendment” to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR).”

The Biden administration has also spied on Catholics and imprisoned peaceful, pro-life demonstrators, all while hundreds of violent attacks on churches and pro-life pregnancy help centers go unchecked. 

CHRISTIAN BELIEFS PORTRAYED AS ‘HATEFUL’ AND ‘BIGOTED’

Tony Perkins, Family Research Council President, wrote in a commentary published by The Washington Stand last month that a staggering 436 churches were victims of criminal attacks in 2023.

“None of this happened in a vacuum,” Perkins wrote. “Under Joe Biden, men and women at the highest levels of government have not only condoned religious intimidation, they’ve encouraged it.…From the FBI to IRS, the Biden administration has spent the last three years criminalizing Americans with biblical views, only to turn around and complain about threats to democracy. What bigger threat is there than a government weaponized against its own people?”

The Family Research Council’s Center for Religious Liberty’s 2024 edition of “Free to Believe?” catalogs dozens of instances in 2023 alone that underscore the extent to which government agencies are being weaponized by the Biden administration to suppress religious expression.

The report states, “As the mainstream culture moves further and further away from a Christian worldview, Christian beliefs that contradict progressive secular values are increasingly denounced by the culture and wrongly portrayed as being hateful or bigoted.”

In comments to The Washington Stand, Center for Religious Liberty Director Arielle Del Turco said that Christians find themselves increasingly “silenced, restricted, or fined for living out their faith or expressing their religious beliefs.” She said that this is particularly evident by restrictions on any speech that challenges “mainstream secular orthodoxy on issues such as abortion, transgenderism, or same-sex marriage.”

Perkins called the report “a warning call” in a letter attached to the document. 

“It is shocking to see Western countries — the same ones we think of as free and open societies — take authoritarian measures against Christians [who are] simply trying to live out their faith,” he wrote.

PROGRESSIVE IDEOLOGY PRIORITIZED OVER RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

The administration’s relentless push of progressive ideology is another form of suppression of religious freedom, according to Grace Melton, Senior Associate for international social issues at The Heritage Foundation’s Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Life, Religion, and Family.

Melton noted in a May 2021 article a telling remark made by Secretary of State Antony Blinken that she said signaled “a sea of change in the understanding and framing of America’s view of international religious freedom.” 

On May 12, 2021, Blinken held a press conference on the release of the 2020 Report on International Religious Freedom, during which he asserted that “religious freedom is not more or less important” than any human right. 

“This is a theme that President Joe Biden’s secretary of state has revisited several times since his March 30 speech repudiating the Unalienable Rights Commission convened by his immediate predecessor as secretary of state, Mike Pompeo,” Melton wrote.

She argued that Blinken’s dismissive remarks about the report were “purely political,” since “the progressive left saw [it] as presenting a stumbling block to advancing abortion and LGBTQ rights, which are top priorities of the Biden administration.”

At a time when Christianity is increasingly under attack, Perkins warns believers against complacency.

“Religious freedom is the foundation for the human rights that Western democracies seek to promote abroad,” he said. “Yet, the ability to promote this fundamental human right will be lost if we do not protect it within our borders.”

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