This week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the formation of a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in its Office for Civil Rights. The Conscience and Religious Freedom Division has been established to restore federal enforcement of our nation’s laws that protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious freedom.
Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Vice President of U.S. Legal Division Kristen Waggoner praised the creation of the new division, “One of the freedoms Americans have cherished most is the freedom to live according to their faith and conscience, free from government coercion. That freedom is what separates America from so many other nations. For that reason, we commend HHS for creating its new Division on Conscience and Religious Freedom within its Office of Civil Rights. Over recent years, we have seen the government repeatedly violate constitutionally protected freedoms. Government should serve as freedom’s greatest protector, not its greatest threat. This new office will help ensure that HHS acts in accordance with its duty to honor Americans’ freedom of religion and conscience rather than coerce nuns, faith-based universities, Christian-run family businesses, and pro-life organizations to speak and live contrary to their own beliefs. That’s a mission that all Americans concerned about government overreach can support.”
Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is the law enforcement agency within Health and Human Services (HHS) that enforces federal laws protecting civil rights and conscience in health and human services, and the security and privacy of people’s health information. The creation of the new division will provide HHS with the focus it needs to more vigorously and effectively enforce existing laws protecting the rights of conscience and religious freedom, the first freedom protected in the Bill of Rights.
OCR already has enforcement authority over federal conscience protection statutes, such as the Church, Coats-Snowe, and Weldon Amendments; Section 1553 of the Affordable Care Act (on assisted suicide); and certain federal nondiscrimination laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion in a variety of HHS programs.
OCR Director Severino said, “Laws protecting religious freedom and conscience rights are just empty words on paper if they aren’t enforced. No one should be forced to choose between helping sick people and living by one’s deepest moral or religious convictions, and the new division will help guarantee that victims of unlawful discrimination find justice. For too long, governments big and small have treated conscience claims with hostility instead of protection, but change is coming and it begins here and now.”
Acting HHS Secretary Hargan said, “President Trump promised the American people that his administration would vigorously uphold the rights of conscience and religious freedom. That promise is being kept today. The Founding Fathers knew that a nation that respects conscience rights is more diverse and more free, and OCR’s new division will help make that vision a reality.”
To file a complaint with OCR based on a violation of civil rights, conscience or religious freedom, or health information privacy, visit us at https://www.hhs.gov/ocr/complaints.