The government has a longstanding practice of giving taxpayer money to faith-based organizations to provide social services. Last week, nine federal agencies proposed changes to the rules that currently govern those partnerships. These rule changes will implement several important religious liberty protections, including some that are aimed specifically at protecting our neighbors.
After campaign promises in 2008 and the work of a Presidential Advisory Council, President Obama signed an Executive Order in 2010 that set forth fundamental principles for government partnerships with faith-based social service providers. (See our timeline for more information.) The goal was to shore up the rules governing these partnerships that had been weakened in the previous decades, and thus better ensure the government does not fund religion and that there’s no religious discrimination in these taxpayer-funded programs. Last week’s proposed rule changes will now implement these vital safeguards
Of course, we still have to examine the details of all these changes, but so far they look promising.
What's particularly promising is that these rules will help to ensure that members of the community have access to important government-provided social services without being subject to unwanted proselytization, religious coercion, or discrimination. In fact, under the proposed changes, beneficiaries will now be given written notice of their religious liberty rights not to be discriminated against in taxpayer-funded programs on the basis of religion, a religious belief, a refusal to hold a religious belief or a refusal to attend or participate in a religious practice.
The new safeguards will ensure that faith-based providers and beneficiaries alike know that those seeking services can’t be turned away because of their religious beliefs (or if they don’t have religious beliefs). Because these organizations often provide services that affect health, safety, and the well-being of the most vulnerable in the community, these protections are especially welcome. They will help ensure that individuals in need are never faced with the stark choice between obtaining essential services and preserving the constitutional and civil rights protections to which they are entitled.
One thing these new rules don’t address, however, is government-funded hiring discrimination. We will continue to urge the Obama Administration to address this problem as well.
For the matters these rules do address, they are an important step forward in protecting religious liberty and protecting our neighbors.
Here are the nine agencies with proposed regulations: Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Labor, Veterans Affairs and the Agency for International Development.