Trump “Religious Freedom” Rules Encourage Discrimination and Intimidation, says Center for Inquiry


For Immediate Release: January 16, 2020
Contact: Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director
press@centerforinquiry.org - (207) 358-9785

The Trump administration took a battering ram to the wall of separation between church and state today with two separate directives that encourage and legitimize religiously based intimidation and discrimination. 

The White House announced that federally funded organizations would be given a sweeping license to discriminate in employment and in the provision of services, and declared that the Department of Education will begin to pressure public schools to allow for student prayer and “level the playing field” for religious groups seeking to use school facilities. 

The protections being removed from federally funded service providers will allow religious organizations to impose their religious beliefs on recipients, choosing whom to serve in accordance with their theology or religious prejudices, without having to notify beneficiaries of their right to a secular alternatives. While the Trump administration declares this trivial task to be an unfair “burden” on organizations that receive federal funds, it allows for virtually unlimited burdens to be imposed on those who need or desire services. 

For example, if a homeless atheist or LGBTQ teenager went to a federally-funded Catholic soup kitchen seeking nutritional aid, the organization could turn them away without so much as notifying them that alternative sources of aid exist, essentially leaving the vulnerable minor abandoned and unfed in order to protect the Catholic organization’s “religious conscience” from having to print and hand over a written notice of their rights.

“True religious freedom includes the right not to believe, not to practice, and not to live according to the strictures of someone else’s religion. The changes announced today are a blatant attack on that freedom by subjecting access to public services to religious litmus tests,” said CFI’s Director of Government Affairs Jason Lemieux. “The protections being removed were implemented years ago on the recommendation of religious and secular groups. To yank them away now is a shameless pander to an extreme faction of religious conservatives grasping for dominance. 

In November of 2019, CFI organized a meeting between several secular rights organizations and officials from eight federal agencies to express concerns about the changes being considered. “The Center for Inquiry made clear to these government agencies that the constitutional right to freedom of and from religion cannot be upheld without these protections, and they have chosen to callously disregard that warning,” said Lemieux. “We will continue to fervently press our case and fight back against these egregious new rules.”

Meanwhile, the administration announced that the Education Department would seek to “level the playing field” regarding religious use of public school facilities, and declared its intention to “remind” public schools that students are allowed to pray, and introducing new requirements for schools to certify that they do not prevent children praying.

“This is a non-solution to a problem that only exists in the fever dreams of Trump’s evangelical base,” said Nick Little, CFI’s Vice President and General Counsel. “Students are now, and have always been, allowed to pray in schools, and the last thing our students and teachers need is a pressure campaign from the White House to encourage it.”

“What cannot happen, and what the Orwellian threats in this directive suggest that Betsy DeVos’ Department of Education wants to impose, is school-sponsored prayer and religious events,” said Little. “CFI has no intention of allowing that to happen. Fortunately, we’ve got the First Amendment on our side.”

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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The Center for Inquiry strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at centerforinquiry.org.