New DOL Rule on Religious Liberty in U.S. Funded Job Training, Social Service Programs

Faith-based federally funded programs offering job training or other social services will have to comply with a new rule extending religious liberty protections to participants in those activities, under a new rule announced yesterday by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Under the rule, a beneficiary who participates in a domestic job training or other social service program offered by a faith-based organization funded by direct federal financial assistance must be notified in writing that they cannot be discriminated against based on religion. They also cannot be required to attend or participate in any privately funded religious activities offered separate from this federally funded program and may request an alternative provider, if the beneficiary objects to the religious character of the organization.

All decisions about federal financial assistance be based solely on merit, without regard to an organization’s religious affiliation or lack of affiliation, the rule says.

The final rule sets forth changes to the current regulations, including:

  • Requiring the department to ensure that all decisions about federal financial assistance are based solely on merit, without regard to an organization’s religious affiliation or lack of affiliation, and free from political interference or the appearance of such interference.
  • Making clear that faith-based organizations are eligible to participate in the department’s social service programs on the same basis as any other private organization.
  • Clarifying 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.
  • Prohibiting 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.
  • Requiring faith-based organizations that receive direct federal financial assistance for domestic social service programs to provide written notice of certain protections to beneficiaries of the program.

Once the new rule is published in the Federal Register, recipients of federal financial assistance will have 90 days to satisfy the new obligations.

The rule implements Executive Order 13559.

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