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New government division aims to protect health workers’ religious freedom
By Jill Luft on April 3, 2018 at 2:50 PM

Stethoscope on top of a BibleThe U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) earlier this year announced that it would create a new division within the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to enforce certain federal laws to protect religious freedom and the rights of conscience of workers in health and human services. This new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division will provide an avenue for HHS to more aggressively enforce laws protecting the rights of conscience and religious freedom.

"Conscience protections apply to health care providers who refuse to perform, accommodate or assist with certain health care services on religious or moral grounds," the HHS webpage on Conscience Protections for Health Care Providers states. Individuals may file complaints of discrimination if they believe they were discriminated against because they:

  • objected to, participated in, or refused to participate in specific medical procedures, including abortion and sterilization, and related training and research activities;
  • were coerced into performing procedures that are against their religious or moral beliefs; or
  • refused to provide health care items or services for the purpose of causing, or assisting in causing, the death of an individual, such as by assisted suicide or euthanasia.

Roger Severino, director of the OCR, stated, "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." The formation of this new division flows from President Trump’s Executive Order 13798, which directs that religious observance and practice should be reasonably accommodated in all government activity, including employment, contracting and programming, to the greatest extent permitted by law. 

Entities that receive money through programs funded or administered in whole or in part through HHS are covered. Thus, virtually all hospitals that receive federal funding come under the authority of HHS and OCR.

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