U.S. Department of Education Proposes Regulations Extending Religious Liberty Protections to Participants in Federally-funded Programs

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Education (Department) today announced proposed regulations that would provide beneficiaries of programs supported by Department grants with new religious liberty protections while continuing to ensure equal protection of the laws for faith-based and community organizations that receive Federal financial assistance and provide services under Department programs. The proposed regulations formally implement Executive Order 13559, which requires agencies that administer or award Federal financial assistance for social service programs to implement protections for the beneficiaries and prospective beneficiaries of those programs to ensure that they are protected from discrimination on the basis of their own religion or religious beliefs, or based on a refusal to attend or participate in a religious activity.

The proposed regulations set forth changes to current regulations, including:

  • Clarifying that decisions about the awarding of grants and subgrants must be based on merit and must be free from political interference or even the appearance of such interference.
  • Replacing the term “inherently religious activities” in the existing regulations with the term “explicitly religious activities” in order to more closely align with current constitutional standards and clarify the scope of activities covered by the regulations.
  • Defining the terms “direct Federal financial assistance” and “indirect Federal financial assistance” so that faith-based organizations understand that certain religious liberty protections are triggered under the updated regulations only if a faith-based organization receives direct Federal financial assistance.
  • Requiring that, if a beneficiary or prospective beneficiary of a Department program supported by direct Federal financial assistance objects to the religious character of an organization that provides services under the program, the organization must make reasonable efforts to refer that individual to an alternative provider.
  • Requiring that faith-based organizations supported with direct Federal financial assistance from the Department provide beneficiaries with a written notice informing them of a variety of religious liberty protections, including steps that must be taken to refer the beneficiary to an alternative provider, if the beneficiary requests such a provider.

The public will have 60 days from the date the proposal is published in the Federal Register to provide comments on the proposed rule. For additional information and to view the proposed regulations, visit https://www.federalregister.gov/public-inspection.

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