On January 16, President Donald Trump made headlines when he released guidance on prayer in public schools. Sadly, coverage of that announcement largely overshadowed a much more significant story from the same day: proposed regulations removing religious liberty protections in government partnerships with faith-based organizations.
The proposals, which apply to nine agencies across the government, would remove existing regulations that protect people who receive government-funded services from a faith-based provider. For example, the proposals remove the requirement that those being served receive a written notice of their religious liberty rights, including that they cannot be discriminated against because of their belief or lack of belief. The proposals also would end the requirement that faith-based providers of government-funded services make reasonable efforts to refer a beneficiary to an alternate provider if asked.
BJC filed official comments opposing the proposed regulations.
BJC’s comments for the various agency proposals are pretty similar. For an example, here’s an excerpt from BJC’s comments for the Department of Veterans Affairs:
Faith-based organizations have long partnered with the government to provide important social services for people in need without imposing religious litmus tests on whom they serve. The current rules do not require faith-based organizations to change their character or identity to provide federally funded social services making these proposed regulations unnecessary to ensure faith-based organizations can participate in federally funded programs. The proposed regulations strip away religious freedom protections from people, often vulnerable and marginalized, who qualify for government-funded social services and are completely unnecessary to ensuring faith-based organizations can apply to be a federally funded service provider.
You can read all the comments from BJC by searching at Regulations.gov.
The comment period was only 30 days instead of the usual 60 days, which does not allow a meaningful opportunity for the public to review the proposals and provide thorough and thoughtful comments in response. Despite the short turnaround time, agencies received thousands of comments. The Department of Health and Human Services says it received more than 23,000 comments, and the Department of Education received almost 18,000. Each agency will have its own number.
You can search through the portal to read comments. Notable are comments filed at the Department of Labor by Melissa Rogers, who served as the director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships during the second term of the Obama administration.
What’s next? Now that the comment period is over, the agencies will eventually release the final regulations.
The rulemaking process isn’t the most exciting thing to cover, and it doesn’t usually make news. But regulations are often central to the real-life experiences the public has with the government. The changes proposed here will significantly weaken religious liberty protections for taxpayers as well as those who benefit from of tax-funded services.