Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in coordination with multiple other federal agencies, issued a Final Rule amending current regulations to implement Executive Order 13559. HHSâ€™ final rule will strengthen partnerships between HHS and faith-based and other community organizations to provide social services to those in need.
The final rule amends the existing regulations that address the equal treatment of faith-based organizations. Among other things, these amendments:
- Require HHS to ensure that all decisions about Federal financial assistance are based solely on merit, without regard to an organizationâ€™s religious affiliation or lack thereof, and free from political interference, or the appearance of such interference. Â
- Make clear that faith-based organizations are eligible to participate in HHS social service programs on the same basis as any other private organization.
- Clarify what activities can and cannot be supported with direct Federal financial assistance by replacing use of the term â€œinherently religious activitiesâ€ with the term â€œexplicitly religious activitiesâ€ and providing examples of such activities.
- Prohibit organizations that receive Federal financial assistance from discriminating against beneficiaries, including denying services or benefits, based on religion, a religious belief, a refusal to hold a religious belief, or a refusal to attend or participate in a religious practice.
- Require faith-based organizations administering a program supported with direct HHS financial assistance to provide beneficiaries or prospective beneficiaries with a written notice informing them of protections for their religious liberty. For example, the notice will inform beneficiaries that they may request a referral to an alternative provider if the beneficiary objects to the religious character of the organization providing services.
- Clarify the definitions of direct and indirect financial assistance.
To increase uniform implementation of these rules across multiple agencies as well as respond to comments received on this rule, HHS revised the proposed rule that was published in August.Â Most of the major elements of the rule remain the same.Â The final rule can be viewed at https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2016/04/04/2016-07339/fundamental-principles-and-policymaking-criteria-for-partnerships-with-faith-based-and-other.
This action stems from the work of a diverse group of faith and community leaders who served as members of the first Advisory Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.Â These leaderscame together to make recommendations to strengthen the social service partnerships that the government forms with nongovernmental providers, including strengthening these partnershipsâ€™ constitutional and legal footing. In response to the Advisory Councilâ€™s report entitled,Â New Era of Partnerships: Report of Recommendations to the President, President Obama issued Executive Order 13559. This Executive Order incorporated many of the Advisory Councilâ€™s recommendations and set forth a number of requirements for agencies that administer or award federal financial assistance for social service programs.
HHS will now work to ensure that all relevant HHS grantees understand and implement these new regulations and guidance.Â We look forward to working with our stakeholders use this implement to strengthen our partnerships.