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Department of Justice Issues Final Rule Extending Religious Liberty Protections to Beneficiaries of Federally-Funded Programs


March 31, 2016 - 12:45 PM


Today the Department of Justice, along with other federal agencies, published a final rule that will provide religious liberty protections to beneficiaries of social services provided by faith-based organizations that receive federal financial assistance and will affirm that such organizations are able to compete for government funds on the same basis as other organizations.  

For example, under the new regulations, a religious organization that is awarded a grant to carry out a social service must notify any beneficiary, in writing, that he or she may not be discriminated against based on religion and may request an alternative provider if he or she objects to the religious character of the organization.  In addition, the regulations specify that all decisions about federal financial assistance must be based on merit, not on an organization’s religious affiliation or lack thereof.  The regulations—which are being published after public notice and comment—formally implement Executive Order 13559, entitled “Fundamental Principles and Policymaking Criteria for Partnerships with Faith-Based and Other Neighborhood Organizations.”

Among other things, the department’s final regulations:

  • Require that all decisions about awards of federal financial assistance from the department must be made on the basis of merit, not on the basis of religion, religious belief, or lack thereof and must be free from political interference, or even the appearance of such interference.
     
  • Reaffirm that faith-based or religious organizations are eligible to participate in any department program for which they are otherwise eligible on the same basis as any other organization.
     
  • Clarify that organizations that receive direct federal financial assistance from the department may not engage in “explicitly religious activities” unless they are offered separately, providing examples of such activities.
     
  • Prohibit organizations that receive federal financial assistance from the department from discriminating against beneficiaries or prospective beneficiaries 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.
     
  • Require faith-based or religious organizations providing services under a program supported by direct federal financial assistance from the department to provide written notice of certain protections to beneficiaries and prospective beneficiaries, including the following statements—
  1. The organization may not discriminate against beneficiaries or prospective beneficiaries 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;
     
  2. The organization may not require beneficiaries or prospective beneficiaries to attend or participate in any explicitly religious activities that are offered by the organization and any participation by beneficiaries in such activities must be purely voluntary;
     
  3. The organization must separate in time or location any privately funded explicitly religious activities from activities supported by direct federal financial assistance;
     
  4. If a beneficiary or prospective beneficiary objects to the religious character of the organization, the organization will undertake reasonable efforts to identify and refer the beneficiary or prospective beneficiary to an alternative provider to which the beneficiary or prospective beneficiary has no objection; and
     
  5. Beneficiaries or prospective beneficiaries may report an organization’s violation of these protections, including any denials of services or benefits by an organization, by contacting or filing a written complaint with the Office for Civil Rights or the intermediary that awarded funds to the organization.

The final regulations become effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register and recipients of federal financial assistance must comply with the regulations 90 days after publication in the Federal Register.  For more information, click here.

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