Trump’s new HHS rule will harm far more people than you realize

(RNS) — On Nov. 1, the Trump administration proposed a new rule that could allow over $30 billion in Department of Health and Human Services grants to flow to organizations that openly refuse to serve people of faith, women and LGBTQ people.

The administration claims that this rule only applies to child welfare agencies.

And yet, the reality is far worse. Foster care accounts for only about 1% of all HHS grant funding. The proposed rule allocates over $30 billion to HHS grantees who run critical service programs like Meals on Wheels, Head Start, youth homelessness services, services for survivors of domestic violence, and more.


RELATED: New rule would allow foster care, adoption agencies to exclude on religious grounds


It is clear that as impeachment proceedings ramp up, President Donald Trump is stepping up his attempts to pander to his conservative white evangelical base. Though the administration’s talking points suggest the rule is a matter of religious liberty, it is not. The real objective is to appeal to his base’s view that there is no room in America for anyone who does not look, think or act exactly as they do. And he is carrying out this objective by discriminating against the vast majority of the rest of us who identify as people of faith.

In fact, HHS invited discrimination explicitly against people of faith earlier this year. Miracle Hill Ministries, a Protestant child welfare agency in South Carolina, openly discriminated against Jewish and Catholic prospective foster parents using federal tax dollars. Those parents sued, and while the cases were pending, HHS proactively granted the state special permission to allow its child welfare agencies to discriminate.

The front office of Miracle Hill Ministries in Greenville, South Carolina. RNS photo by Yonat Shimron


 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

This proposed rule allows this discrimination at a much larger scale. It invites discrimination against people of all faiths and no faith, against women and against LGBTQ people. It removes clear and comprehensive protections currently in place for people seeking services, often from lifesaving programs.  We’ve already seen the consequences of this kind of discrimination. In 2015, a pediatrician in Michigan refused to care for the daughter of one married couple in Michigan, Jami and Krista Contreras, because the girl had two moms.

LGBTQ rights advocates have rightly been outspoken in opposition to the idea that publicly funded organizations have a right to shut them out. As a result, almost all commentary about discrimination in child welfare agencies like Miracle Hill has focused on the potential impact on prospective parents from the LGBTQ community.

As a lead organizer of the Faith for Equality coalition, a national body of faith-based organizations advocating proactively for nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people, I know that all of our rights are as intertwined as our communities. If service providers are allowed to discriminate against moms like Jami and Krista, they could as easily refuse care to me or my Muslim family. We will not stand idly by as any of our rights are stripped away.

Faith communities should join in condemning this administration’s attempts to discriminate against us all. As a Muslim, I know quite well that this administration cares very little about many faith communities.

Less than 24 hours before HHS announced this rule, it was reported that the administration is considering adding up to five new countries to the list of those whose citizens are prohibited from entering the U.S. under the travel restrictions commonly known as the Muslim ban.

Enough of my community members are already separated from their families; they cannot visit sick relatives nor attend their weddings or funerals. Yet the Trump administration claims that keeping families apart will somehow keep our nation safe, wasting government resources that could otherwise be used to stop those who would do us harm.

As a person of faith, I take great offense to both of the administration’s attacks on religious liberty. Both are discriminatory, and indeed neither of them actually solves any problems.  

Fortunately, Americans of all faith backgrounds have come together with a common purpose like never before and are fighting to protect America’s religious freedom and other civil rights. As people of faith, we know we are better as a nation when we stand together, even as our own president tries to tear us apart.

(Maggie Siddiqi is director of the Faith Initiative at the Center for American Progress. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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