Democrats demand Trump administration withdraw religious provider rule

Senate Democrats are demanding the Trump administration withdraw a proposed rule that would expand religious exemptions for federally funded faith-based social service providers.

Led by Sens. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayTrump administration issues guidance scaling back paid leave requirement for small business employees Senate coronavirus stimulus talks spill into Saturday Senate Democrats propose canceling student loan payments during coronavirus MORE (D-Wash.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDemocrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus Democrats say more unemployment benefits needed in wake of record unemployment claims Democrats fear coronavirus impact on November turnout MORE (D-Ore.), the senators said the proposal is “both an attack on religious freedom and yet another step taken by President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump fires intelligence community inspector general who flagged Ukraine whistleblower complaint Trump organization has laid off over 1000 employees due to pandemic: report Trump invokes Defense Production Act to prevent export of surgical masks, gloves MORE to greenlight federally-funded discrimination.”

The proposal seeks to remove a mandate that the faith-based health and social service providers tell patients about services they do not provide for religious reasons, referring those patients to other providers.

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It would also eliminate a provision requiring federally funded faith-based organizations to give written notice to beneficiaries to ensure they are aware of the religious nature of the organization.

The rule from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was released in January as part of a coordinated series of actions across multiple federal agencies to remove what Trump administration officials said were “discriminatory regulatory burdens” that the Obama administration placed on religious organizations that receive federal funding.

HHS said it is discriminatory to require all faith-based groups, but not other providers of federally funded services, to refer beneficiaries to alternative providers.

The Democrats said the rule “greenlights employment discrimination” by allowing federally funded service providers to make employment decisions based on “acceptance of or adherence to the religious tenets of the organization.” 

This means an organization could use its self-defined religious tenets to fire an individual or deny them resources on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, the lawmakers said. 

“Protecting equal access for beneficiaries and potential employees, regardless of their religious beliefs and identities, is and should always remain the Department’s number one priority. We demand the Department put the American people first and withdraw the proposed rule,” the Democrats wrote.