The Trump administration on Monday acted to remove Obama-era rules that hindered religious organizations that receive federal money to provide social services.
This wasn't a last-minute effort by President Trump. It's part of a series of efforts that have been in the works for several years, and it's finally taking effect.
In new guidelines that were organized across nine federal agencies, the administration said it was clearing barriers that make it difficult for religious groups to participate in federal programs.
The top item among the changes is the elimination of a rule requiring faith-based groups to tell clients about their religious affiliation and to refer clients to a different program upon request.
It also removes the mandate that forced religious groups to give clients written notice that they can't be required to participate in religious activities.
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Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said the changes will "remove unfair obstacles" standing before groups that seek to contract with the agency to help veterans.
"VA partners with hundreds of groups across the country that are looking to support our Veterans," Wilkie said. "Making it harder for faith-based groups to deliver this support never made sense."
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said the policy ensures that faith-based groups "do not give up their First Amendment rights as a condition of participating in taxpayer programs."
The executive order was one of several overtures Trump made to his evangelical Christian base around the presidential campaign. Trump also vowed to protect prayer in public schools and bolster the rights of religious groups on college campuses.
The new policy applies to funding from nine agencies including the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Education Department, and the Department of Health and Human Services. Together, the agencies award billions of dollars a year in grants and contracts.
Proposed last January, the policy follows through on an executive order President Donald Trump signed in 2018 aiming to put religious groups on equal footing when they compete for federal grants and contracts.
The policy will take effect on Jan. 16.
Civil rights groups blasted the new changes, saying the previous rules were meant to protect LGBTQ people, religious minorities, and others who may face discrimination from religious groups.
The ranking Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), applauded the rule and argued that it protects groups from discrimination based on their religious beliefs.
"Too often religious organizations are targeted by leftist politicians and organizations who seek to strip them of their Constitutional rights," she said. "The Trump administration has worked diligently to push back against policies that would diminish the faith of any American."
The new rules are being finalized after a public feedback period that drew nearly 100,000 comments.
In defending its new policy, the administration said some of the revoked rules had rarely been used. The nine agencies said they were not aware of any client of a faith-based group that requested a referral to another program. And some faith-based groups have committed to making referrals even if it isn't required, the agencies wrote.