DearColleague.us

Letter

Sending Office: Huffman, Jared
Sent By:
Jordan.Sciascia@mail.house.gov

CLOSING 1 PM TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 18

Endorsed by The American Humanist Association, Americans United, American Atheists, Center for Inquiry, Secular Coalition for America, National Women’s Law Center, Human Rights Campaign, NARAL Pro Choice, Jewish Women International, National
Center for Transgender Equality, Freedom from Religion Foundation, Catholics for Choice

Dear Colleague:

Please join the members of the Democratic Women’s Caucus, Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, and Congressional Freethought Caucus to oppose the new faith-based regulations that the administration has proposed for nine federal agencies. The proposed rules
seek to weaken important first amendment rights. Their enactment would greatly undermine our country’s social safety net by reducing people’s access to critical services, with the most vulnerable in our communities facing the greatest harm.

The nine proposed rules eliminate critical religious freedom protections recommended by the previous administration’s President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood partnerships for people who use government-funded social service programs.
The proposed changes are wide-ranging; they span many governmental agencies and include removing a requirement for religious providers to notice a beneficiary of alternative providers if they are uncomfortable with the provider’s religious affiliation, doing
away with a requirement for faith based providers to give beneficiaries written notice of their rights alerting beneficiaries that they cannot be discriminated against based on the provider’s religious affiliation, and vastly expanding religious exemptions
under Title IX.

It is not difficult to imagine the negative impact these changes could have on marginalized or vulnerable communities. A gay, homeless teen might not seek services such as housing, food, treatment, or counseling, and lose the opportunity to find a place
to live because they know the religion of the faith-based provider condemns them for being gay. A woman could be denied benefits based on a provider’s religious belief that women should not work outside the home. A Jewish, Muslim, or nonreligious person might
forgo counseling for substance use disorder and job training because the only program they know of is in a church adorned with Christian symbols. A single mother seeking parenting classes or after-school services for her children could be forced to receive
those services from a faith-based provider that believes having children outside of marriage is a sin because she doesn’t have the resources to find another provider.

It is clear that these proposed regulations put the rights of beneficiaries at risk and muddies the clear separation between church and state. We cannot allow these dangerous proposals to go unchecked. We intend to submit this letter as a comment for each
of the nine agencies with proposed regulations. We urge you to join us in opposing these regulations. If you have questions or would like to sign on, please contact Rina Patel with the Equality Caucus at
Rina.Patel@mail.house.gov, Jordan Sciascia with Rep. Huffman at
Jordan.Sciascia@mail.house.gov, or MiQuel Davies with Rep. Frankel at
MiQuel.Davies@mail.house.gov.

Sincerely,

The Members of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, the Democratic Women’s Caucus, and the Congressional Freethought Caucus

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dear [Agency Director]:

We write on behalf of the members of the Democratic Women’s Caucus, Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, and Congressional Freethought Caucus – representing close to 200 members from across the country – to urge you to withdraw your proposed regulations
that govern the relationship between the government and faith-based social service providers. The proposed rules place the interests of government-funded organizations above those of people seeking social services. These regulations will undermine our country’s
social safety net by reducing people’s access to critical services, with the most vulnerable in our communities facing the greatest harm.

The nine proposed rules eliminate critical religious freedom protections recommended by the previous administration’s President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships for people who use government-funded social service
programs. These proposed changes show a lack of respect for beneficiaries and their rights and puts the beneficiaries’ rights at risk. In particular, one of the proposed regulations would remove the requirement that social service providers give beneficiaries
written notice of their rights, including that the provider cannot discriminate against beneficiaries based on the provider’s religion or force beneficiaries to participate in religious activities. Maintaining the requirement of notice is crucial: people cannot
exercise rights they are not aware they have.

In addition, the proposed regulations would strip the requirement that providers take reasonable steps to refer beneficiaries to alternative providers if requested. This could effectively take away people’s access to vital government services.
A person who is uncomfortable at a faith-based provider could be forced to forgo getting the services they need because they are unable to find an alternative provider on their own.

It is not difficult to imagine the negative impact these changes could have on marginalized or vulnerable communities. A gay, homeless teen might not seek services such as housing, food, treatment, or counseling, and would lose the opportunity
to find a place to live because they know the religion of the faith-based provider condemns them for being gay. A woman could be denied benefits based on a provider’s religious belief that women should not work outside the home. A Jewish, Muslim, or nonreligious
person might forgo counseling for substance use disorder and job training because the only program they know of is in a church adorned with Christian symbols. A single mother seeking parenting classes or after-school services for her children could be forced
to receive those services from a faith-based provider that believes having children outside of marriage is a sin because she doesn’t have the resources to find another provider.

At the same time these proposed rules would strip notice requirements and other religious freedom rights for beneficiaries, they also would add a requirement that the government provide written notice to faith-based organizations about their ability
to get additional religious exemptions, including under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). This could pave the way for providers to refuse to provide key services and could open the door to discrimination in taxpayer-funded programs.

In another effort to placate faith-based organizations, the proposed rules would expand the already existing and problematic religious exemption that permits government-funded providers to discriminate in employment with taxpayer funds. No one
should be forced to conform to a religious litmus test to keep a government-funded job. The proposed regulations could allow providers to cite religion as a pretext for discriminating against people on other protected bases. Women, LGBTQ people, religious
minorities, and the nonreligious are at the greatest risk for discrimination.

The proposed rules also would strip religious freedom protections from people who use vouchers or “indirect aid programs” to access government social services. Voucher programs may contain religious content because beneficiaries are using them
based on their own independent choice. The proposed regulations, however, would categorize programs as “indirect” even if they don’t offer at least one secular option from which to choose, as is required by the Constitution. The proposed rules would even allow
providers in indirect programs to require people to participate in religious activities. Thus, a beneficiary in a voucher program could be given only religious providers to choose from and be forced to pray, participate in Bible studies, and attend worship
services in a taxpayer-funded program. This clearly denies beneficiaries’ religious freedom and undercuts the existing Executive Order’s explicit protections against discrimination based on a participant’s religious beliefs, lack thereof, or their refusal
to take part in a religious practice by requiring attendance at such a practice.

Additionally, we are troubled by the Department of Education’s attempts to vastly expand the religious exemption under Title IX. Contrary to Congress’ intent to limit the exemption to educational institutions that are “controlled by a religious
organization” and the clear language of the statute,[1] the Department of Education is trying to expand the exemption to schools whose relationship with a religious organization is tenuous or even nonexistent.[2] For example, the proposed rule would allow
an educational entity to evade liability for unlawful sex discrimination simply by claiming that it “subscribes to specific moral beliefs or practices,” regardless of whether it is controlled by a religious organization or even has any religious affiliation
at all.[3] If adopted, this proposed rule could be used to allow an extremely broad range of schools—potentially including non-religious schools—to discriminate against students and employees protected under Title IX, such as women, LGBTQ people, and people
who are pregnant or use reproductive services. On top of this, the proposed rule would require schools to recognize or fund religious student organizations regardless of their “membership standards,” even if those membership standards are discriminatory or
don’t comply with the school’s generally applicable requirements.[4] Flouting clear Supreme Court precedent,[5] this special carve-out could force students to fund religious student organizations even if those organizations exclude, for example, students of
color, LGBTQ students, women, or students with disabilities.

Government-funded social services should serve everyone. No one should be turned away from getting the help they need because they cannot meet a religious test. Nor should people be denied services they are entitled to receive because the taxpayer-funded
provider that voluntarily applied for a grant has a religious objection. The proposed regulations undermine the goal of providing services for all, and will damage the public’s confidence in government services. Accordingly, we urge you to reject the proposed
rules.