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First Liberty Defends Religious Social Service Organizations

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March 17, 2023
Mission | First Liberty Institute

by Jorge Gomez • 4 min read

First Liberty submitted public comments this week in opposition to the Biden administration’s proposed “Partnerships with Faith-Based and Neighborhood Organizations” rules that lessen federal protections for religious employers.

The administration is seeking to amend a Trump-era rule that ensured faith-based organizations partnering with the government could deliver key social services while remaining true to their religious convictions. Nine federal agencies announced these regulatory changes regarding the rights and obligations of religious organizations.

Under the proposed rules, faith-based ministries could be negatively impacted. Religious organizations that operate with federal funding would be required to separate their religious activities from the programs and services they provide. This would render religious providers unable to fulfill their mission to bring religious programming to areas and populations that lack adequate social services. Our comment explains that “by conditioning their receipt of Federal financial assistance—a public benefit—on the severing of their religious activities from the program, the proposed rule would substantially burden their exercise of religion.”

What’s more, changing these regulations threatens religious organizations’ hiring practices. Religious groups currently operate under a key exemption: They’re protected if they require employees to sign a statement of faith and abide by the organization’s religious tenets.

This exemption, however, could be rolled back significantly. First Liberty’s Deputy General Counsel Justin Butterfield explains this would force “religious employers to employ those whose beliefs or conduct dilute their religious messages,” which “not only risks violating the Constitution but puts millions of vulnerable Americans at risk of losing essential services.”

Religious ministries and organizations are inspired by their beliefs to serve the neediest among us. As we point out in our comment:

“Many providers choose to offer programs because of their religious convictions. Protecting their right to serve in accordance with their religious convictions comports with the best of our Nation’s traditions, and protecting the ability of religious providers to offer their services provides the most options for those in need, many of whom are best served by religious providers.”

More efficient and effective than government agencies alone, religious organizations fill the gap where it’s most needed—whether it’s providing shelter, food, clothing or other essential goods or offering critical services such as counseling, rehabilitation, job placement, foster-care placement and adoption. Studies have repeatedly demonstrated they are essential to the health and welfare of millions of Americans.

Religious ministries make our country a better place and greatly improve the lives of people. When it comes to helping people in need, our nation is best served by ensuring that as many social service providers are free to participate. Excluding, singling out or cutting back protections for organizations simply because of their religious character defies logic. The Biden administration’s policies are only going to hamper the ability of religious groups to help the most vulnerable. Their proposed changes will only do more harm than good.

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First Liberty submitted public comments in opposition to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposed rules that lessen federal protection for the conscience rights of health care professionals. According to the comment, “the proposed changes hinder both religious freedom and transparency and will ultimately harm both health care employers and employees.”


Biden Administration’s Proposed Rules Would Roll Back Religious Liberty Laws in Health Care

First Liberty delivered a compelling 42-page public comment to a proposed rule by the Biden administration, commonly known as the “transgender mandate,” which would rollback extensive civil rights protections for Americans of faith in health care.

The change would force millions of religious health care professionals and institutions to participate in abortions, sterilizations and “gender-transition” surgeries that violate their beliefs. If religious providers and institutions are forced to choose between their faith and their healthcare work, many providers and institutions will be forced to leave the medical field, which will reduce Americans’ access to healthcare.


Biden Administration Could Soon Force Employers to Violate Their Conscience 

The Biden administration is proposing new regulations that could force employers and business owners to violate their conscience and moral convictions.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently announced new rules regarding the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate. The proposed regulations would end Trump-era protections for employers with moral convictions. HHS officials estimate more than 100 employers and roughly 125,000 workers would be affected.


Revised Education Rules Would Give Federal Government More Power to Bully Religious Americans

First Liberty submitted a public comment opposing the Department of Education’s proposed changes to Title IX, part of the civil rights law established in 1972, to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Administration officials claim the changes are necessary to “protect LGBTQI+ students from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics.” Despite what the administration claims, not everyone would be treated fairly or respectfully if these changes take effect. Women and girls would be negatively impacted. It would especially foment discrimination against people of faith.

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