Donald Trump’s administration has made yet another move to enable discrimination, including anti-LGBTQ discrimination, in the name of “religious freedom.”
On Thursday, National Religious Freedom Day, Trump announced his administration is issuing nine proposed rules that govern how faith-based nonprofits with government contracts interact with their clients, reversing regulations put in place under President Barack Obama.
Under the Obama-era regulations, these contractors “need to give beneficiaries notice of the providers’ religious character and the right to get services elsewhere,” The Washington Post reports. “The providers also have to make reasonable efforts to refer beneficiaries to another provider if the person receiving services is uncomfortable.” The Trump administration says these rules are unfair to faith-based providers because they don’t apply to secular organizations.
The newly proposed rules, which are subject to public comment before becoming final, would apply to organizations that provide a wide range of services through contracts with the departments of Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Labor, Agriculture, Education, Justice, Homeland Security, and International Development. Services offered by these contractors include substance abuse treatment, adoption and foster care placements, refugee resettlement, and much more.
People “think a neighborhood soup kitchen in a basement” when they think of a faith-based group providing social services, Lambda Legal attorney Camilla Taylor told the Post. “But we are talking about government grants to the tune of millions and millions of dollars,” she explained. “And increasingly, they are excluding members of the public from receiving services based on who they are.”
The rules would indeed enable faith-based contractors to turn away people who are LGBTQ or follow a different religion, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. “We will keep saying this as long as we have to: Religious freedom is a fundamental right, but it does not confer a license to discriminate,” said Heather Weaver, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, in a press release. “Government-funded programs, including those operated by faith-based organizations, should not be able to discriminate against vulnerable people seeking help. We will submit comments vigorously opposing these proposed regulations.”
Other civil rights groups were likewise quick to condemn the move. “Today’s new regulations proposed by the Trump-Pence White House roll back existing protections for LGBTQ and other people seeking government services and benefits,” said a statement issued by Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David. “The right to believe and to exercise one’s faith is a core American value. The right to discriminate with taxpayer dollars is not. These regulations would dismantle meaningful protections for beneficiaries of these federally funded programs and strip away basic notice requirements designed to ensure that beneficiaries know their rights to be free from discrimination and their right to an alternative, nonreligious provider. Taxpayer funds should not be used to allow discrimination.”
Today’s announcement comes on top of many other efforts by the Trump administration to establish a right to discriminate in the name of religion. In November, for National Adoption Month, HHS announced a new rule that would allow adoption agencies and other programs that receive HHS grants to reject same-sex couples and rainbow families on the basis of religious freedom. Other programs that stand to be affected include elder services, Head Start, refugee resettlement, HIV services, and programs for runaway and homeless youth.
The administration has finalized a so-called conscience protection rule allowing health care providers to opt out of procedures that offend their religious beliefs, but court challenges have kept the rule from going into effect. It also wants to eliminate provisions of the Affordable Care Act that ban anti-transgender discrimination and even allow homeless shelters to discriminate against trans clients.