HHS Division Established to Protect Freedom of Conscience
By Gail Finke
A new division at the federal Department of Health and Human Services will “restore federal enforcement of our nation’s laws that protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious freedom,” according to HHS Acting Secretary Eric Hargan.
Announced Jan. 18, the division is part of the HHS Office for Civll Rights (OCR) and will be officially established today, shortly before President Donald Trump address the March for Life via live video.
“President Trump promised the American people that his administration would vigorously uphold the rights of conscience and religious freedom,” Acting Secretary Hargan said in a release Wedndesday. “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.”
While numerous conscience protections are part of federal law, OCR Director Roger Severino said that “l aws 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.”
Progressive organizations, including LGBT activists and the ACLU, protested the new division immediately, calling it part of a concerted effort to “legalize discrimination,”and social media posts soon predicted that gay people would be denied life-saving treatment at hospitals.
According to the HHS website, however, the division will insure that doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals are not required to perform abortions or euthanasia, and that free exercise of their religions would not result in being denied government grants or participation in government programs, as well as protect people from being denied healthcare or participation in health-related programs because of their religious beliefs. Of particular interest to Catholic and other religious hospitals, these protections have also been called for by Lutheran, Methodist, and other hospitals owned by non-Catholic religious denominations, and by healthcare workers of all faiths.
The” “Washington Post” reported that the new division will also shield healthcare workers who object to surgeries and other medical treatments for transgender people from retaliation for declining to participate in them.