Atheists Denounce Trump Administration’s New “Religious Freedom” Office and Dangerous New Rules Promoting Discrimination

Washington, DC—As part of its continued assault on LGBTQ people and women under the guise of “religious freedom,” the Trump administration has announced the creation of a new “Conscience and Religious Freedom Division” within the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights. The new division would be charged with shielding medical professionals who refuse to treat patients because of religious objections.

In addition, HHS is expected to announce a proposed rule change that would allow healthcare providers to discriminate against patients and deny treatment on the basis of religious objections.

The rule change would roll back Obama-era regulations that provided non-discrimination protections for individuals receiving healthcare services. Prior to these regulations, healthcare providers were able to use “conscience” exceptions to deny access to birth control, treatment for HIV and AIDS, and end-of-life care; discriminate against transgender patients and even deny emergency ambulance services to a woman seeking an abortion.

“The Trump administration seems to define religious freedom as the ability to freely discriminate against LGBTQ people and women,” said Alison Gill, legal and policy director for American Atheists. “I have no doubt that changing this rule will cost people their lives. Medical evidence, not religious dogma, should be deciding medical care.”

So-called “conscience” protections are the latest tactic being used by the Religious Right to undermine civil rights laws and equal protection. In a proclamation for National Religious Freedom Day, the Trump administration said that Americans could pick and choose which laws to follow on the basis of their religious beliefs, a sentiment echoed by Roger Severino, the director of HHS’ Office for Civil Rights, in a statement announcing the proposed changes.

“These changes fly in the face of established law and court precedent. This new office and the proposed rule don’t protect religious freedom. They merely elevate one particular set of religious views—namely that LGBTQ people are sinful and that abortion is immoral—above all others, and weaponize it against vulnerable people,” added Gill. “The Office for Civil Rights should try focusing on protecting civil rights instead of wasting time and money to undermine them.”

Severino, the chief architect of the proposed HHS rule, has previously worked to expand religious exemptions and undermine basic civil rights protections for LGBTQ people, particularly transgender people.

Religious Freedom Act Violations: Annual Designation by US State Dept. Released

Today, the Department of State announces that the Secretary of State re-designated Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan as Countries of Particular Concern on December 22, 2017. The Secretary also placed Pakistan on a Special Watch List for severe violations of religious freedom.

Designations Under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998

Press Statement

Heather Nauert
Department Spokesperson
Washington, DC
January 4, 2018

In far too many places around the globe, people continue to be persecuted, unjustly prosecuted, or imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. Today, a number of governments infringe upon individuals’ ability to adopt, change, or renounce their religion or belief, worship in accordance with their religion or beliefs, or be free from coercion to practice a particular religion or belief.

In accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the Secretary of State annually designates governments that have engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom as “Countries of Particular Concern”. Today, the Department of State announces that the Secretary of State re-designated Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan as Countries of Particular Concern on December 22, 2017. The Secretary also placed Pakistan on a Special Watch List for severe violations of religious freedom.

The protection of religious freedom is vital to peace, stability, and prosperity. These designations are aimed at improving the respect for religious freedom in these countries. We recognize that several designated countries are working to improve their respect for religious freedom; we welcome these initiatives and look forward to continued dialogue. The United States remains committed to working with governments, civil society organizations, and religious leaders to advance religious freedom around the world.