New HHS office that enforces health workers' religious rights received 300 complaints in a month

New HHS office that enforces health workers' religious rights received 300 complaints in a month
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More than 300 individuals filed a complaint with the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department over the last month, saying that their religious or conscience rights have been violated by their employer, a state or state agency or a health provider. 

The complaints follow the creation of a new division within HHS that focuses on enforcing those rights and investigating complaints from individuals who say their rights have been violated. 

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For example, a nurse could file a complaint against their employer if they are coerced into participating in an abortion or disciplined for refusing to do so. 

The new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division is located within the HHS Office for Civil Rights, and has received more than 300 complaints since launching Jan. 18. 

Before the division opened and after President TrumpDonald John TrumpBrennan fires new shot at Trump: ‘He’s drunk on power’ Trump aides discussed using security clearance revocations to distract from negative stories: report Trump tried to dissuade Melania from 'Be Best' anti-bullying campaign: report MORE won the election in November 2016, HHS received 34 conscience complaints. It's not clear how many religious complaints it received in that time period.

 “We’ve announced to the world that we’re open for business and the public is responding," Roger Severino, the director of the Office for Civil Rights, said in a statement to The Hill.   

In the past, the Office for Civil Rights has primarily focused on enforcing anti-discrimination and privacy laws. 

HHS officials said the new division was necessary so health workers do not have to violate their religious or moral beliefs to do their jobs.

"No one should be forced to choose between helping sick people and living by one’s deepest moral or religious convictions, and the new division will help guarantee that victims of unlawful discrimination find justice," Severino said during the announcement in January. 

Officials argued these rights weren't enforced during the Obama administration and it did not investigate such complaints. 

Violations can result in a service provider losing government funding. 

Opponents argue, however, the protections could become a license to discriminate against women, gay and transgender people.