Nine federal agencies announce final rule restoring religious liberty rights discarded by Trump administration

by | Mar 15, 2024

This month, the Biden administration announced a final rule, jointly issued by nine federal agencies, entitled “Partnerships with Faith-Based and Neighborhood Organizations.” The rule is designed to protect the religious liberty rights of federally funded social service beneficiaries by, among other things, reinstating key safeguards removed during the Trump administration.

BJC has long supported the bedrock principle that when federal tax dollars are used to provide services for individuals in need, both the beneficiary and the taxpayer should be assured that the services are not being administered in a way that discriminates on the basis of religion or as a means of coercing religious activity. BJC General Counsel Holly Hollman applauded the final rule for “protecting the religious liberty rights of people in need.”

Here is an excerpt from her statement:

Our country’s principle of religious freedom means that someone does not have to be a certain religion – or be any religion at all – to access the same taxpayer-funded services. We appreciate the intensive interagency work that has gone into clarifying and strengthening these protections.


Religious institutions that want to provide social services can apply for and receive federal funding that is also available to secular social service providers. Federal funds rightly come with regulations that protect taxpayers and beneficiaries alike.

Among other things, the announced final rule:

  • Requires that social service providers receiving direct federal funding notify beneficiaries of their right to be free of discrimination on the basis of religion;
  • Encourages the funding agency to inform beneficiaries of alternate providers if the beneficiary objects to a faith-based provider’s religious character;
  • Prohibits social service providers from requiring beneficiaries to attend or participate in explicitly religious activities to receive government-funded services.

The nine agencies involved – The United States Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Education, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Labor, and Veterans Affairs and the United States Agency for International Development – initially proposed the joint rule in January 2023. This month’s announcement finalizes the rule after a lengthy public comment period, in which BJC participated by sending its own comments and joining comments from a group of religious liberty advocates known as the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination. “The Proposed Rule,” the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination wrote, “re-centers people in need, restoring their religious freedom protections and making it more likely that they can access critical services.”

For more on this important announcement, check out BJC’s Respecting Religion podcast episode discussing the rule soon after it was first proposed. A White House press release announcing the final rule is here.