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 MurrayPelosi huddles with chairmen on surprise billing but deal elusive House approves two child care bills aimed at pandemic GOP, Democratic relief packages B apart on vaccine funding MORE (D-Wash.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Hillicon Valley: Facebook removes Trump post | TikTok gets competitor | Lawmakers raise grid safety concerns Tensions flare as GOP's Biden probe ramps up  MORE (D-Ore.), the senators said the proposal is “both an attack on religious freedom and yet another step taken by President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says his faith is 'bedrock foundation of my life' after Trump claim Coronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Ohio governor tests negative in second coronavirus test 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.