Federal Agencies Publish Final Rule Provide Religious Liberty Protections for Beneficiaries of Federally Funded Social Service Programs

 
Monday, April 4, 2016
 

The U.S. Department of Labor and eight other federal agencies published a final rule that will provide new religious liberty protections for beneficiaries of federally funded social service programs, while also adding new protections for the ability of religious providers to compete for government funds on the same basis as any other private organization.

The final rule provides that a beneficiary who participates in a domestic job training or other social service program offered by a faith-based organization funded by direct federal financial assistance must be notified in writing that they cannot be discriminated against based on religion. They also cannot be required to attend or participate in any privately funded religious activities offered separate from this federally funded program and may request an alternative provider, if the beneficiary objects to the religious character of the organization.

The final rule also requires that all decisions about federal financial assistance be based solely on merit, without regard to an organization’s religious affiliation or lack of affiliation. The regulations, published after public notice and comment, formally implement Executive Order 13559.

The final rule sets forth changes to the current regulations, including:

  • Requiring the department to ensure that all decisions about federal financial assistance are based solely on merit, without regard to an organization’s religious affiliation or lack of affiliation, and free from political interference or the appearance of such interference. 
  • Making clear that faith-based organizations are eligible to participate in the department’s social service programs on the same basis as any other private organization.
  • Clarifying what activities can and cannot be supported with direct federal financial assistance by replacing use of the term “inherently religious activities” with the term “explicitly religious activities” and providing examples of such activities.
  • Prohibiting organizations that receive federal financial assistance from discriminating against beneficiaries, including denying services or benefits, based on religion, a religious belief, a refusal to hold a religious belief or a refusal to attend or participate in a religious practice.
  • Requiring faith-based organizations that receive direct federal financial assistance for domestic social service programs to provide written notice of certain protections to beneficiaries of the program.

While the final rule becomes effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, recipients of federal financial assistance have until 90 days after publication in the Federal Register to satisfy the new obligations in the final regulations.  

   

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