The Department of Labor’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships has announced a proposed rule that would provide beneficiaries of social service programs supported by department grants — such as those enrolled in employment and training programs — with 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 such services.

The proposed rule formally implements Executive Order 13559, which provides that beneficiaries or prospective beneficiaries of social service programs must be protected from discrimination based on their religion or religious beliefs, or on a refusal to attend or participate in a religious activity.

The proposed rule sets forth changes to current regulations, including:

  • Clarifying the definition of direct and indirect financial assistance so that faith-based organizations understand when certain religious liberty protections are triggered under the updated rule.
  • Clarifying activities covered by the regulations by replacing the prior term “inherently religious activities” with the term “explicitly religious activities,” and by defining the latter term as “including activities that involve overt religious content such as worship, religious instruction, or proselytization.”
  • Requiring that faith-based organizations supported with direct 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.
  • Providing a resolution process so that beneficiaries can file complaints with the department’s Civil Rights Center about social service providers that fail to comply with applicable rules.

The public will have 60 days from the date the proposal is published in the Federal Register to provide comments on the proposed rule. The commentary period thus ends on Oct. 5.