WASHINGTON, D.C. (LifeSiteNews) – The Biden administration is considering revoking a federal civil rights agency’s power to review alleged violations of religious liberty by the federal government, according to a draft memo to Secretary of Health & Human Services (HHS) Xavier Becerra obtained by Fox News.
Fox reported that the memo concerns a 2017 Trump administration decision that empowered HHS’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to review federal agencies’ compliance with the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and “initiate such other actions as may be necessary to facilitate and ensure compliance with RFRA.”
But the memo, signed by President Joe Biden’s OCR Director Lisa Pino, advocates a return to the pre-2017 status quo under which “no division was singularly responsible for the Department’s compliance with RFRA or the First Amendment.”
“That model recognized that all components of HHS had a responsibility for compliance and that 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,” she claimed. “Rescinding the delegation to OCR does not lessen the commitment of the Department to compliance, but ensures that it is not misused by any one agency to enact a broad, proactive agenda.”
However, the memo goes on to confirm that this change would mean giving greater weight to LGBT interests that conflict with religious liberty claims by rolling back the Trump administration’s “expansive view of the use of RFRA,” which it claims “resulted in negative impacts for underserved communities,” and specifically raises the issue of “broad-based exemptions from nondiscrimination requirements to child welfare agencies,” meaning religious foster home and adoption agencies.
“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,” the memo claims.
Pino’s Trump-era predecessor, Roger Severino, blasted the news as an abandonment of Becerra’s stated commitment to religious liberty.
“HHS centralized authority over religious freedom claims because the laws weren’t being enforced and because that’s how we enforce every other civil right,” Severino told Fox. “Without dedicated staff responsible for investigating religious freedom complaints, HHS will return to trampling people’s rights as before — just ask the Little Sisters of the Poor.”
“Because Becerra was twice found to have violated conscience protection laws by OCR, he has no business deciding its religious freedom authorities given his massive conflict of interest,” he continued. “Becerra told Congress that he values religious freedom and that nothing will change with OCR concerning enforcement. His actions since then prove that he lied and this move would put an exclamation point on his anti-religious hostility.”
The news is the latest in a pattern of hostility to religious liberty demonstrated by the Biden administration. Last week, the Biden Department of Labor announced the rollback of a Trump-era regulation that broadened the definition of federal contractors who could claim religious exemptions to federal hiring regulations that interfered with their ability to hire personnel aligned with their religious beliefs.
In October, the White House refused to say whether it will comply with a federal judge’s order not to fire military members and civilian federal employees seeking religious exemptions from mandatory COVID-19 vaccination at least until their case is fully adjudicated.