On January 13, nine federal agencies published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (full text) in the Federal Register eliminating certain changes made in 2020 by the Trump Administration that loosened restrictions on faith-based organizations’ operation of programs and activities funded by federal grants. (See prior posting.) The proposed new rules revert largely to the 2016 version of the agencies’ rules. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking says in part:
[B]oth the 2016 Rule and the 2020 Rule contained provisions prohibiting providers from discriminating against a program beneficiary or prospective beneficiary “on the basis of religion, a religious belief, a refusal to hold a religious belief, or a refusal to attend or participate in a religious practice.” …
The 2016 Rule required that, in programs supported by direct Federal financial assistance, beneficiaries and potential beneficiaries also be made aware of these prohibitions on discrimination, but the 2020 Rule removed this notice requirement.
Because the purpose of making providers aware of nondiscrimination requirements is to ensure that beneficiaries can access services free from discrimination, … all Agencies except USAID therefore propose to reinstate the requirement that organizations providing social services under Agencies’ direct Federal financial assistance programs give written notice to beneficiaries and prospective beneficiaries of certain nondiscrimination protections, and to apply this requirement to all such providers, whether they are faith-based or secular. The Agencies may, as appropriate, require providers to include this notice as part of a broader and more general notice of nondiscrimination on additional grounds.
The 2016 Rule also required the notification to beneficiaries to inform them that, if they were to object to the religious nature of a given provider, the provider would be required to make reasonable efforts to refer them to an alternative provider. The 2020 Rule eliminated that requirement. The Agencies believe, however, that providing assistance to beneficiaries seeking alternative providers would help advance the overarching goal of facilitating access to federally funded programs and services. Without such assistance, it may be challenging for beneficiaries or prospective beneficiaries unfamiliar with Federal grant programs to identify other federally funded providers….
Therefore, with the exception of USAID, the Agencies are proposing a modified version of the 2016 Rule’s referral procedure that would encourage Agencies, when appropriate and feasible, or State agencies and other entities that might be administering a federally funded social service program, to provide notice to beneficiaries or prospective beneficiaries about how to obtain information about other available federally funded service providers.
Finally, with the exception of USAID, the Agencies are proposing to remove language added by the 2020 Rule stating that providers at which beneficiaries choose to expend indirect aid “may require attendance at all activities that are fundamental to the program.”
BJC Online reports on the rule proposals.