US cabinet departments adopt rule protecting organizations’ religious freedom rights

Washington D.C., Dec 14, 2020 / 03:55 pm (CNA).- Nine federal agencies announced Monday a new rule aimed at protecting the First Amendment rights of religiously-affiliated organizations.

The Departments of Education, Justice, Homeland Security, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, and Veterans Affairs, along with the Agency for International Development, will now ensure that organizations receive equal treatment in programs their departments support, regardless if they are affiliated with a religion.

The new rule was written in response to the May 2018 Executive Order 13831 “Establishment of a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative.” Earlier draft rules were published in January. Nearly 100,000 comments were received from the public, members of Congress, and other organizations regarding the new policy.

The rule “clarifies that religious organizations do not lose their legal protections and rights just because they participate in federal programs and activities,” said a Dec. 14 release from the Department of Education.

“Religious liberty is a bedrock founding principle that this Administration consistently demonstrates its commitment to vigorously defend,” said Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos Monday.

“At the Department of Education, we’re continuing to ensure faith-based organizations, including faith-based institutions, do not give up their First Amendment rights as a condition of participating in taxpayer programs,” she said, adding that her department “will continue to ensure faith-based educational providers are treated equally alongside their secular counterparts.”

“Under this Administration, religious discrimination in education is never tolerated,” said DeVos.

According to the release, this rule “preserves most of the existing regulations governing participation of religious organizations.”

Previously, religious institutions which participated in federal programs were subject to policies which critics say unfairly imposed upon the religious liberty of the organizations. For instance, religious organizations who received federal money were required to have “any religious activities by the organization be separated in time or location from any services directly funded with federal money.”

This is now no longer the case.

“This final rule also clarifies that religious organizations do not lose various legal protections because they participate in federal programs and activities,” including the right to accommodation and conscience protection, said the Department of Education.

“This final rule ensures equal treatment for faith-based organizations, consistent with the Constitution and other federal law,” said the department. “It removes requirements in prior regulations that placed unequal burdens on religious organizations, cast unwarranted suspicion on them, and were in tension with their religious liberty rights.”


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