Last week, it was reported on HHS' interest in abolishing the Office of Civil Rights' (OCR) right to enforce the First Amendment and Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a landmark statute used in the former administration's policies on sexuality and gender. An internal memo revealed OCR Director Lisa Pino claiming that the delegation of authority began a series of improper decisions on those matters.
As of Wednesday, that revocation was noted in the Federal Register, and HHS had removed many waivers for faith-based organizations like foster care agencies that refuse to work with same-sex couples. HHS announced in a press release that the waivers issued to South Carolina, Texas and Michigan, were overly broad and "inappropriate."
"Our action ensures we are best prepared to protect every American's right to be free of discrimination," HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra stated in a press release Thursday. "With the large number of discrimination claims before us, we owe it to all who come forward to act, whether to review, investigate or take appropriate measures to protect their rights. At HHS, we treat any violation of civil rights or religious freedoms seriously."
HHS' latest movie, which refers to groups that get federal funding, will probably provoke greater congressional scrutiny as members have already denounced Becerra and proposed legislation to block his actions.
"President Biden and Secretary Becerra are ignoring the First Amendment," Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., announced in a statement. "This action solidifies that Secretary Becerra will not keep the commitment to protect religious freedom for every American that he made during his confirmation hearing."
Roger Severino, who led OCR under Trump and who now works as a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, said that "These outrages are the latest in a long line of attacks on religious freedom that began the day Biden took office and likely will not end until he and his radical HHS Secretary no longer have the reins of power."
He continued that "HHS gratuitously stripped its Office for Civil Rights of the power to accept religious freedom complaints, leaving people with no other option but to sue when HHS inevitably tramples on their rights for lack of any internal checks."
The RFRA delegation came on Dec. 7, 2017, in response to the administration's broader attempts to beef up religious liberty protections. HHS granted OCR authority to, among other things, conduct RFRA compliance reviews and "initiate such other actions as may be necessary to facilitate and ensure compliance with RFRA." Becerra revoked both that delegation and another matter on Jan. 15, 2021.