Federal Agencies Restore Religious Liberty Protections for Beneficiaries of Social Services

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Nine federal agencies, to uphold religious freedom and ensure equitable access to federally funded social services, have finalized a rule that reinstates essential religious liberty protections. These protections, which were rescinded by the previous administration, are integral for beneficiaries of social services, including but not limited to job training, academic enrichment, and housing services.

The rule was jointly issued by the United States Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Education, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Labor, and Veterans Affairs, along with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). It marks a significant step towards eliminating religious discrimination and enhancing access to vital social services.

Under this new rule, federal grantees administering social service programs within the country will be required to inform beneficiaries of their right to be free from religious discrimination. A model notice will be provided for the grantees’ use, ensuring uniformity in communicating these important rights.

Furthermore, the rule stipulates that all covered social service programs—whether supported by vouchers or grants—must abstain from discriminating against beneficiaries based on their religion. This provision reaffirms the fundamental American value of religious freedom, extending it to the realm of social services.

Moreover, the rule encourages government agencies to fund domestic programs to assist beneficiaries in identifying alternative federally funded service providers in their area. This measure aims to help individuals find providers more compatible with their beliefs, furthering the cause of religious freedom.

The U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra voiced his support for the finalized rule, stating, “[This] announcement establishes uniform policies to safeguard Americans from religious discrimination in social services. These regulations aim to guarantee broad access to essential social services for eligible individuals, reinforcing awareness of religious liberty protections.”

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The rule also clarifies certain aspects in response to comments received during its formation. For instance, while providers will be allowed to notify beneficiaries of this rule’s protections as part of any broader nondiscrimination notice, they will not be obliged to combine such notifications.

The rule also maintains long-standing protections for faith-based providers of federally funded social services. These providers must be permitted to compete on an equal footing with secular organizations for awards while preserving their religious character. Moreover, the rule upholds the requirement that the government must notify organizations of these protections. It further affirms that requests for religious accommodations will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, in line with federal religious freedom and conscience laws.

This collective initiative by the nine agencies is a response to President Biden’s executive order signed in February 2021. The order reestablished the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, emphasizing the need to fortify the ability of faith-based and other community organizations to deliver services effectively while also safeguarding the religious liberty of program beneficiaries.

As this rule comes into effect, the agencies have expressed their appreciation for the comments received during its formation. They look forward to collaborating with providers and others on implementing its requirements. They also acknowledged the invaluable contributions made by faith-based and other community organizations to the nation and expressed gratitude for the opportunity to continue the long bipartisan tradition of partnering with them to serve people in need.

By reinstating these crucial religious liberty protections, this rule aims to uphold the federal government’s obligation to religious freedom and equity for all. In America, diversity is celebrated, and everyone has the right to access essential social services, irrespective of their religious beliefs.

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