There was a lot of activity at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) last week. Here are some of the latest developments and what it means for religious freedom:

HHS Protects Faith-Based Foster Centers in South Carolina

In the last days of the Obama Administration, the outgoing president instituted a new regulation that could possibly discriminate against faith-based child welfare programs. This measure might prevent these offices from receiving federal funds. The Governor of South Carolina requested an exemption from these grant regulations, and last week HHS decided to grant the exception.

“This decision preserves all of the foster care agencies currently available for children in South Carolina by ensuring faith-based organizations can continue to serve this vulnerable population. It protects minors who are in need as many options as possible for being placed in loving foster families. The government should not be in the business of forcing foster care providers to close their doors because of their faith. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right.” – Shannon O. Royce, Director for Center for Faith and Opportunities Initiatives.

The HHS Office of Civil Rights Finds that California Violated Federal Conscience Protections

In June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that California violated the rights of pro-life pregnancy resource centers in that state by requiring them to post information about where women could find state funded, low-cost abortions. Less than a year later, the HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has officially put California on notice.

The department has determined that the state of California violated federal conscience protection laws, also known as the Weldon and Coats-Snowe Amendments. This is the first time the OCR has found a state in violation of these laws since the new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division launched. The decision to find one state in violation allows the Office of Civil Rights to reopen other complaints and could result in further enforcement action by OCR.

Roger Severino, director of OCR, stated, “We are pleased that the Supreme Court blocked California’s blatant discrimination against non-profits that give life-affirming options to women facing unplanned pregnancies. Our finding of a violation underscores not only that California must follow the Constitution, but that it also must respect federal conscience protection laws when it accepts federal funds.”

Roger Severino Speaks to Focus on the Family

At the 2019 March for Life event, Focus on the Family hosted Roger Severino, the Director for the HHS Office of Civil Rights, at a breakfast discussion on the morning of the march. He shared some of what his department is doing to protect those with sincerely held religious convictions from being forced to participate in something like abortion. Here’s an excerpt from his talk:

“Our fearless pro-life president, Donald J. Trump. He leads, what I believe, is the most pro-life administration in history. This president has stacked this administration with fearless pro-life leaders. Fighting everyday for the most vulnerable, the unborn.

“I cannot think of any person or group of people that are more vulnerable or more discriminated against than the unborn human person in the womb. It is unfortunately one of the most dangerous places in America today, and we work to do everything to make sure that life is respected in law at every stage.”

Consider the alternative, imagine if tens of thousands would not march in defense of life. Imagine if your conscience on this fundamental issue was violated.”

In addition, Mr. Severino added that as more people become aware that conscience complaints are being taken seriously, reports of violations had gone up from 1.25 per year to over 100 complaints. It is encouraging to know that HHS is now investigating conscience concerns, and that the violators will face consequences.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is working hard to continue protecting the religious liberty of Americans across the country. Despite the devastating decision of New York to legalize abortion until birth, there are elements within the federal government invested in the pro-life cause.