An Orthodox Jew is placed in a government-subsidized job program that meets in a church. His religious beliefs bar him from entering a church. Will reasonable efforts be made to refer him to an alternate provider?
A Catholic victim of human trafficking is cared for by a federally funded evangelical nonprofit. The nonprofit also organizes Bible study groups and invites her to attend. She’s afraid if she refuses to attend a Bible study, she could lose her government benefits. Will she be told that she doesn’t need to participate in the Bible study to receive federally funded services?
A woman in a government-backed pregnancy prevention program is bothered by the fact that the program leader proselytizes. Will she learn that providers must not proselytize within a government grant program and will she know how to report any violations of these rules?
On the recommendation of religious and community leaders from across the political spectrum, the Obama administration’s answer to these questions was a clear: “Yes.” I saw that firsthand as executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, the arm of the White House that focused on the government’s partnerships with faith-based and community groups.
President Trump changed that earlier this month when he signed an executive order striking religious liberty protections for Americans who get government-subsidized social services. While Trump said he took these actions in the name of religious liberty, he actually dealt religious freedom a blow with his new White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative. He also damaged efforts to find common ground on church-state issues and undermined support for the many partnerships the government has with faith-based entities.
If beneficiaries of federally funded social services object to the religious character of their assigned provider, they should be referred to an alternative service provider of comparable value and accessibility. Council members recommended this “alternative provider” requirement be applied across federal grant programs. Council members also agreed that such beneficiaries should not be discriminated against because of their religious beliefs or lack thereof, that any privately funded religious activities must be held separately from activities funded by government grants and that beneficiaries should not be required to participate in religious activities like worship or Bible study or discriminated against for refusing to do so.
The council also recommended that beneficiaries receive a written notice to ensure they understood these protections. In November 2010, Obama signed these recommendations into law via Executive Order 13559.
After a public notice and comment process, nine federal agencies issued final rules implementing this executive order, a process I coordinated when I served at the White House.
Under the rules, religious organizations that receive direct federal aid for domestic programs are required to make reasonable efforts to refer beneficiaries to alternative providers if beneficiaries object to an organization’s religious character. Such religious providers are also required to give beneficiaries written notice of these and other protections.
The incorporation of these provisions in federal regulations helped tamp down the controversy over partnerships between the government and faith-based organizations. To be sure, many progressives still opposed certain rules George W. Bush had put in place, but these new rules ameliorated their concerns, while also drawing the support of conservatives.
The order Trump signed in early May eliminates the alternative-provider requirements. Trump’s order also strikes the requirement that beneficiaries receive written notice of protections for their religious liberty.
Read the full story at The Washington Post