Children's charity suing HHS for revoking waivers for faith-based organizations

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The Health and Human Services (HHS) Department is facing a fresh lawsuit after its recent decision to revoke waivers from faith-based organizations that seek to provide services in accordance with their beliefs.

Filed on Thursday, the lawsuit alleges that HHS’ decision violates the First Amendment rights of Holston United Methodist Home for Children, which refuses to place children with same-sex couples.

It targets an Obama-era grant rule that prohibits discrimination on the basis of “non-merit factors such as age, disability, sex, race, color, national origin, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation.” Exemptions to this rule were granted under Trump but later repealed by now-HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra.

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The lawsuit, brought by the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), argues that revocation is unconstitutional and if it were to enforce the Obama-era rule, it would be exceeding its statutory authority.

“The Biden administration is wrong to remove religious exemptions to its unlawful grants rule,” said ADF Senior Counsel Matt Bowman, who served in the previous administration’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) within HHS. “This leaves Holston Home and other faith-based nonprofits with an untenable choice to violate their religious beliefs or lose critical grants necessary to their operations, which benefit everyone, including the government.”

According to its 2020-21 annual report, Holston Home allocated $10,608,190 to “direct ministry for children.”

“In 2020–21, our services touched the lives of 586 children in Tennessee & Virginia,” it reads, noting services like residential care and education. It also works to, among other things, connect children with foster care.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra answers questions at a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to discuss reopening schools during Covid-19 at Capitol Hill on Sept. 30, 2021 in Washington, D.C.
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HHS did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment. 

Earlier this month, the department announced that it would revoke the waivers for faith-based organizations, arguing that the previous administration’s decision was inconsistent with the current administration’s view of discrimination.

“The waivers are inconsistent with the Department’s critical goal of combating discrimination based on religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity,” a Nov. 18 press release read.

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The lawsuit comes amid criticism that Secretary Becerra is reneging on his pledge to continue protecting religious liberty after the previous administration. HHS has repeatedly not responded to Fox News’ requests for comment on this criticism – although Becerra maintains he continues to value those types of protections.

“Our action ensures we are best prepared to protect every American’s right to be free of discrimination,” he said in the Nov. 18 press release.

“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,” Becerra continued. “At HHS, we treat any violation of civil rights or religious freedoms seriously.”

For the past decade, courts have been wrestling with competing claims surrounding religious liberty and non-discrimination provisions. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court issued a narrow opinion in favor of a Catholic foster agency that sought to challenge Philadelphia’s nondiscrimination ordinance requiring it to serve same-sex couples. The case was remanded to a lower court and recently settled with Catholic Social Services maintaining an exemption.

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