Department of Justice Announces Guidance on Religious Liberty Protections in Grant Programs

(STL.News) – Following the Supreme Court’s opinion in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, today the Department of Justice issued guidance summarizing religious liberty protections applicable to organizations that participate in the Department’s grant programs.  The guidance, an initiative of the Department’s Religious Liberty Task Force, reiterates the fundamental premise affirmed by the Supreme Court in Espinoza that “[t]he Free Exercise Clause . . . ‘protects religious observers against unequal treatment’ and against ‘laws that impose special disabilities on the basis of religious status.’”  [1] For that reason, absent a compelling government interest, the Department shall not disqualify otherwise eligible recipients from a public benefit solely because of their religious character.

“The Department is pleased to work with a diverse array of organizations, including faith-based organizations, to provide critical services to our communities,” said Claire McCusker Murray, Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General and co-Vice-Chair of the Religious Liberty Task Force.  “We recognize that faith-based organizations may have questions or concerns about how they can provide these secular services while maintaining their religious character.  The guidance released today is intended to answer those questions and help ensure that faith-based organizations can compete on an equal footing with secular organizations for Department grants.”

“The guidance is an important affirmation of the Department’s commitment to ensure that individuals and organizations driven by faith to serve the community are not subject to unequal treatment by virtue of their religious identity,” said Beth A. Williams, Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy and co- Vice-Chair of the Religious Liberty Task Force.

As a corollary to the guidance, the Office of Justice Programs (OJP), the Department’s largest grant-funding component, created a comprehensive webpage to provide information on federal law protections for faith-based and other organizations.  The webpage also facilitates the submission of complaints if an organization believes that it has been discriminated against.  OJP administers grant programs for a wide array of public safety initiatives.  Last year alone, OJP awarded grants totaling over $5 billion.

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