Several Agencies Issue Proposed Rules Implementing Faith-Based Principles

August 13, 2015 | By Jerry Ashworth | Post a Comment

cross-1244302In the Aug. 6 Federal Register, several federal agencies issued proposed rules to implement Executive Order (EO) 13559, Fundamental Principles and Policymaking Criteria for Partnerships with Faith-Based and Other Neighborhood Organizations, which President Obama signed in November 2010. Among the agencies that issued proposed rules included the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Education, U.S. Agency for International Development, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Veterans Affairs and others.

It’s not often so many federal agencies issue simultaneous proposals on a related topic, which made this particularly noteworthy. The proposed rules stem from an August 2013 Office of Management and Budget (OMB) memorandum instructing agency heads to adopt regulatory changes and guidance consistent with model regulations and guidance developed by the Interagency Working Group on Faith-Based and Other Neighborhood Partnerships, which was created under the Executive Order. The Executive Order set forth principles clarifying that religious providers should be able to compete for federal funding without loss of their religious identity, and providing protections for program beneficiaries, including a referral process for beneficiaries who object to the religious character of an organization that operates a program with direct federal funds. OMB encouraged agencies to have a uniform implementation of the principles in EO 13559. To focus on one agency’s proposal, HUD proposed to amend its existing regulations to:

  • better define the terms “direct federal financial assistance,” “federal financial assistance”, and “indirect federal financial assistance”;
  • state that decisions about awards of federal financial assistance must be free from political interference or even the appearance of such interference and must be made on the basis of merit, not on the basis of religion or religious belief;
  • replace the term “inherently religious activities” with the term “explicitly religious activities,” and define the latter term to include “activities that involve overt religious content such as worship, religious instruction or proselytization;”
  • explain the responsibilities of intermediaries and define the term “intermediary;”
  • require faith-based organizations that receive direct federal financial assistance from HUD to carry out activities under a HUD program to provide written notice to beneficiaries and prospective beneficiaries describing certain religious liberty protections available to them; and
  • describe the steps that must be taken to refer a beneficiary to an alternative provider when the beneficiary objects to the religious character of an organization carrying out activities under a HUD-funded program.

Interested parties have until Oct. 5 to comment on the agencies’ proposals, and the agencies encourage the submission of comments through Regulations.gov.

We’d like to know your reaction to this Executive Order and the proposed rules. Reply to the blog post if you favor the proposals, or if you have particular concerns.

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