In one of the Trump administration’s most daunting and egregious rule change proposals to date, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced that it plans to eliminate explicit and necessary anti-discrimination rules for programs that receive federal grants. This means that programs receiving more than $527.3 billion in tax dollars to carry out important services—including foster care, HIV clinics, domestic violence hotlines, cancer screenings, Head Start, food pantries, and more—would be able to discriminate based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and religion. While the proposed rule goes through a short thirty-day comment period and review, HHS has also announced that they won’t enforce the existing anti-discrimination rules. The impact of this change will be drastic and it will be dire.
Here’s what we already know can happen if this rule goes into effect:
An older atheist can be skipped over by community meal delivery programs. An LGBTQ minor—who is 120 percent more likely to experience homelessness than a heterosexual cisgender peer—can be rejected from programs specifically designated to support people experiencing homelessness. An unmarried woman can be rejected from a childcare program. And all of this discrimination will be fueled by our tax dollars.
Let me be clear: the administration is perfectly aware of how this rule will directly lead to more discrimination. In fact, they are celebrating it. I attended the White House’s announcement event via phone, where I heard finely honed talking points about how this change will help faith-based organizations do their work unencumbered by burdensome regulations. However, the talking points weren’t so refined when the call was opened up for questions from the more than 400 attendees. One person blatantly asked: “Did I understand you correctly to say that religious adoption agencies would still have to keep track of how many people they discriminate against if this becomes law?” And the answer from the White House was, to paraphrase the audio recording of the call, that while they cannot offer legal advice, they won’t enforce the existing rules.
In talking points sent by the White House after the call to help interested groups shape supportive statements of the erasure of human rights, they argue that “the federal government should not be in the business of forcing child welfare providers to choose between helping children and their faith.” Actually—they should. Any organization whose mission it is to help children, and receives federal funds to conduct that work, must put children first.
The bottom line is that these faith-based organizations and the Trump White House are becoming more brazen in their efforts to codify state-sponsored discrimination, in part by characterizing the regulations as burdensome, when in fact they ensure that all people, especially the most marginalized among us, have equal and unfettered access to government-sponsored programs.
Tax-payer dollars should never be used to discriminate. And humanists aren’t going to allow this to happen without a fight. Here’s what each of us can do to fight back against state-sanctioned religious discrimination:
- Share your opposition to the proposed rule change directly with HHS by commenting. This will help delay implementation. For more information on how to effectively submit a comment and why comments are important, see my recent article on this topic.
- Call your member of Congress and ask them to support the Put Patients First Act, which would bar HHS from following through with the rule change.
- Activate your network. This rule will impact all of us. Tell your friends, your neighbors, and your family about what this rule would do and ask them to get involved.
And we aren’t alone in this fight. Congressman Mark Pocan (D-WI), a founding member of the Congressional Freethought Caucus, is a vocal ally. “This sweeping action from the president is a reminder of his longstanding dedication to discriminatory and hateful policies,” he notes. “Reversing this rule is a signal to all LGBTQ people that not only does the president condone discrimination against us but that those who spread hate will be rewarded with federal funding. From rolling back the rights of transgender students, military servicepeople and patients to attempting to legalize workplace discrimination against LGBTQ employees—this president has made it his mission to legalize hate. American taxpayers should not be forced to bankroll bigotry—the president must reverse this action.”