Executive orders also cover DACA, racial equity reviews
On his first day in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order that is certain to roll back protections cemented in the last days of the Trump administration for faith-based, federally-funded child welfare providers that wish to follow religion in choosing who to work with.
One of the 17 executive orders signed by Biden shortly after his inauguration as the nation’s 46th president instructed agencies to “consider whether to revise, suspend, or rescind” any actions that are inconsistent with a policy of combating discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
“Every person should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or whom they love,” the order reads.
Though no particular Trump-era rules are mentioned in the order, the review at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will surely lead to the demise of a policy that was finalized in mid-January and took effect this week, just days before the transfer of power. It reversed Obama-era rules that prohibited publicly funded, faith-based social service providers from discriminating on the basis of factors such as sexual orientation or religion.
The Trump administration argued that requiring faith-based providers to meet these nondiscrimination standards violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That law prohibits the government from imposing a “substantial burden” on the right to freely practice religion except in “furtherance of a compelling governmental interest” — and even then the burden must be as light-handed as possible.
The review at HHS could also lead quickly to the end of a waiver that the Trump administration gave South Carolina back in 2019, which enabled Gov. Henry McMaster (R) to exempt faith-based providers from federal nondiscrimination standards.
The issue will be back front and center later in 2021, as the Supreme Court is expected to rule in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. The case began when Philadelphia canceled a contract with one of its faith-providers that was unwilling to conduct home studies for same-sex couples – the high court could choose to rule that no non-discrimination clause in a government contract can be used to stop such providers from following religion in decisions about which clients to serve.
Two other Biden executive orders of note for the field of youth and family services:
Immigration: Generally directing the departments of Homeland Services and Justice to preserve and fortify the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which offers undocumented citizens who came to America as children to remain in the country under a deferred action of deportation. The Trump administration had early on appeared open to a deal that kept DACA intact, then moved to terminate it, but was blocked from doing so by the Supreme Court in June.
While DACA does not offer a path to citizenship, Biden has already proposed an immigration policy that would include such an offer for millions of undocumented immigrants in the country.
Race: Biden instructed his Office of Management and Budget – he has nominated Neera Tanden to lead the agency – to work with all agencies to conduct “equity assessments” to determine if there are any systemic barriers to access or eligibility for benefits and other assistance. Agencies will have 200 days to conduct these assessments and hand in their findings to the White House Domestic Policy Council.
"Our country faces converging economic, health, and climate crises that have exposed and exacerbated inequities, while a historic movement for justice has highlighted the unbearable human costs of systemic racism," the order said. "Our Nation deserves an ambitious whole-of-government equity agenda that matches the scale of the opportunities and challenges that we face."