Home Christian News Biden Administration Finalizes Rule on Religious Liberty Protections

Biden Administration Finalizes Rule on Religious Liberty Protections

Biden religious liberty protections
Detail of a Thomas Jefferson statue on the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by K.G.Hawes/Flickr/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 DEED)

(RNS) — Nine agencies of the Biden administration have finalized a new rule that officials say will improve religious freedom by protecting the rights of beneficiaries of social services funded by the government.

In particular, the rule will affect those receiving help from the many social service providers that are faith-based and will ensure providers cannot withhold help based on faith affiliation nor require beneficiaries to participate in any religious activity in order to receive help.

The rule restores some religious freedom protections that were rescinded by the Trump administration that also affected people seeking job search and job training assistance, housing services and academic enrichment. It also clarifies that faith-based organizations should be able to compete equally with secular providers for awards while keeping their religious character.

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“Today’s announcement establishes uniform policies to safeguard Americans from religious discrimination in social services,” said U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra in a Friday (March 1) statement. “These regulations aim to guarantee broad access to essential social services for eligible individuals, reinforcing awareness of religious liberty protections.”

The 187-page rule, scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Monday, 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.

One of the key protections is a requirement that organizations receiving federal grants for U.S. social service programs inform beneficiaries of their right to not be discriminated against on the basis of their religion. Grantees must provide a model notice to providers of this requirement, which applies to programs supported by grants or by vouchers.

Another key aspect of the rule is the encouragement of government agencies funding U.S. programs to aid beneficiaries in locating alternative providers in their region that are more compatible with their beliefs and also are federally funded.

The announcement was hailed by organizations that have long supported the separation of church and state and religious freedom.

“We applaud the Biden administration for restoring religious freedom protections for the millions of often vulnerable and marginalized people who use government-funded social services,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, in a statement.

“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. 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.”

Interfaith Alliance said the new rule is an important step in restoration of rights of people who seek aid from social service providers that receive federal funds, including food banks, eldercare organizations and shelters aiding those who are coping with domestic violence or homelessness.