A leaked memo from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reveals plans by the Biden administration to make changes to Americans’ First Amendment rights and other religious liberty protections.
The internal memo describes plans to “sign delegation of authority on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and religion clause of the First Amendment” to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
It’s a move that Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford believes will undo religious liberty protections and disregard the First Amendment.
“I am an outspoken advocate for religious liberty, and I have a very ‘negative reaction’ to this Administration ignoring the First Amendment and failing to protect Americans of conscience,” he wrote in a statement. “Americans do not support President Biden and his team’s absolute lawlessness when it comes to upholding Americans’ Constitutional rights—including our right to freely live our faith.”
The memo—penned by Lisa J. Pino, director of the OCR—does not deny there will be pushback if enacted.
“The action will likely be well-received among civil rights advocates and litigators, as well as groups advocating for the separation of church and state,” the memo reads.
“Groups who share the prior Administration’s broad view of the application of RFRA or who will interpret this action as an indication that the Department is abdicating its responsibility for compliance with RFRA will likely issue strong negative reactions,” it continues. “This includes members of Congress who have been outspoken about OCR’s conscience and religious freedom activities and who have repeatedly asked questions about changes to OCR’s organizational structure and legal authorities.”
The memo recommends HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra sign the action as soon a possible.
Becerra has claimed he supports religious liberty. During his narrow Senate confirmation, 50-49, he promised to uphold religious protections.
“…I believe deeply in religious freedom, and I will make sure that as Secretary of HHS that you will know that I will not only respect the law when it comes to these issues of religious freedom, but I will enforce them as Secretary of HHS within my department,” he said in February.
But Lankford, who did not support Becerra’s confirmation, has cited his concern with the secretary’s hostility toward conscience protections and lack of experience to lead the agency.
“This action from HHS means that the Office for Civil Rights will no longer uphold the civil rights of religious Americans,” Lankford wrote. “HHS clearly intends to go back to the days of light to no enforcement of the law that protects the rights of people of any faith.”
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver told CBN News that RFRA is a major legal obstacle stopping the Biden administration from enforcing the federal COVID-19 mandate.
“Certainly the federal government can’t force it. And moreover, they’re not even considering religious freedom,” he said. “They’re pretending that the First Amendment and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act just don’t exist.”