The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), along with other federal agencies, today published a final rule that will provide new religious liberty protections for beneficiaries of federally funded social service programs, while also adding new protections for the ability of religious providers to compete for government funds on the same basis as any other private organization. The regulations – which are being published after public notice and comment – formally implements Executive Order 13559.

The regulations:

  • Require HHS to ensure that all decisions about federal financial assistance are based solely on merit, without regard to an organization’s religious affiliation or lack thereof, and free from political interference, or the appearance of such interference.
  • Make clear that faith-based organizations are eligible to participate in HHS’s 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 “inherently religious activities” with the term “explicitly religious activities” 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 that receive direct federal financial assistance for domestic social service programs to provide written notice of certain protections to beneficiaries or prospective beneficiaries of the program.

While these regulations become effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, recipients of federal financial assistance have until 90 days after publication to satisfy the new obligations in the final regulations.