Jan 18, 2018
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced today it will establish a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within the Office for Civil Rights to specialize in enforcement of and compliance with laws that protect conscience and free exercise of religion, and that prohibit coercion and discrimination. Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver and Director of Public Policy Jonathan Alexandre participated in today’s event in which HHS emphasized its commitment to faith-based organizations.
The new division within the OCR will focus on enforcement, outreach, and policy. The federal conscience protection statutes include the Church Amendments (42 U.S.C. §300a-7), Public Health Service Act 42 (42 U.S.C. §238n), the Weldon Amendment (Continuing Appropriations Resolution, Pub. L. No. 113-164, Sec. 101(a) (Sept. 19, 2015), and Section 1553 of the Affordable Care Act (42 U.S. 18113). The breadth of federal funding is extensive. For example, it is safe to assume that all hospitals receive one or more streams of federal funding that invokes the authority of HHS and the OCR. Thus, hospitals will not be allowed to force a healthcare provider to perform or participate in abortion. Complaints can be filed at www.HHS.gov/conscience/conscience-protections/index.html.
The new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within the Office of Civil Rights is one of the tangible ways in which HHS is carrying out President Trump’s Executive Order on Free Speech and Religious Liberty and the Department of Justice’s Religious Liberty Guidance. In President Trump’s Executive Order 13798, he declared that “the Founders envisioned a Nation in which religious voices and views were integral to a vibrant public square, and in which religious people and institutions were free to practice their faith without fear of discrimination or retaliation by the Federal Government…and it will be “the policy of the executive branch to vigorously enforce Federal law’s robust protections for religious freedom.”
The Attorney General’s Memorandum for All Executive Departments and Agencies, “Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty,” was issued pursuant to the President Trump’s Executive Order and instructs that, “to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, religious observance and practice should be reasonably accommodated in all government activity, including employment, contracting, and programming,” provided twenty principles to guide administrative agencies and executive departments in carrying out such tasks, and also provided guidance to such agencies and departments in implementing such religious liberty principles.
Mat Staver said, “The establishment of a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division by the Department of Health and Human Services within its Office for Civil Rights is an historic and positive step by the Trump administration to protect religious freedom and the rights of conscience. The Department of Health and Human Services under the Obama administration was hostile to conscience and religious freedom rights. Today’s announcement is refreshing and exciting. Religious freedom is our first freedom and I welcome the news that HHS is committed to protecting our precious freedom. The Trump administration is to be commended for making this 180-degree turn from the past administration which used the federal government to violate religious freedom and conscience rather than protecting them. This move sends a strong message that there must be a commitment to protecting religious freedom,” said Staver.
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