Churches and other ministries around the country should keep their eyes open for what the Biden administration plans to do with religious liberties. There is a reported memo from the Director of the Office for Civil Rights within the Biden Administration’s Health and Human Services Department that is of concern. Apparently, this memo hints at the Biden administration’s apparent desire to roll back religious liberties.
Lisa Pino, the Director of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), wrote a draft memo to Xavier Becerra, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. In that memo, she wrote about the Trump administration’s delegation in 2017 for the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) trying to prevent violations of religious liberty.
She said that before the delegation in 2017, there was no division that was singularly responsible for the Department’s compliance with RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) or the First Amendment. Pino noted that the previous model recognized that all components of the Department of Health and Human Services had responsibility for compliance.
She also said that the OGC [Office of General Counsel] was a central partner in providing key legal advice on RFRA and defending the Department when RFRA claims were raised.
Pino summed up her position by stating that rescinding the delegation to OCR would not lessen the commitment of the Department to compliance, but it might ensure that it is not misused by any one agency to enact a broad, proactive agenda.
Pino is not focusing on the fact that former Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued guidelines on various religious liberty issues, and that prompted the HHS to give the OCR authority for RFRA compliance reviews and to “initiate such other actions as may be necessary to facilitate and ensure compliance with RFRA,” Fox News reported. Without this in place, no one had the ultimate responsibility to watch out for injustice against religious liberty.
Pino’s memo also included this, “While nothing in RFRA legally restricts an agency to work proactively to address a complainant’s (or ‘would be’ complainant’s) religious needs or rights, there is a serious concern that such an approach broadens the effect of RFRA in a way that may not be legally required and while causing significant detriment to civil rights and public health protections.”
Pino wrote that the former presidential administration took an expansive view of the use of RFRA and it, in her opinion, resulted in negative impacts for underserved communities. She said that the former initiatives clearly sent a signal to LGBTQ+ communities that the Department did not recognize their civil rights, including the right to marry.
The memo gets right to the point when it declares that the Department will need to continue to comply with RFRA, but removing this delegation would demonstrate the present administration’s belief that RFRA is meant to be a shield to protect the freedom of religion, no “a sword to impose religious beliefs on others without regard for third party harms, including civil rights.”
The former director of the Office of Civil Rights in the Trump administration, Roger Severino, responded on Tuesday saying that without dedicated staff responsible for investigating religious freedom complaints, HHS will return to trampling people’s rights as before.
Severino went on to give details about how Becerra was twice found to have violated conscience protection laws by the OCR. He said that Becerra previously told Congress that he valued religious freedom and that nothing will change with OCR concerning future enforcement. But his actions since then “prove that he lied and this move would put an exclamation point on his anti-religious hostility,” according to Severino.
Does anybody believe that Washington is able to move forward without a watchdog group looking for injustices against religious liberties?