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How the Biden Administration Is Using Regulations to Erode Religious Freedom

The Biden administration has implemented or is seeking to implement multiple regulations that would severely restrict religious freedom.
Matt Bowman
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The Biden administration has implemented or is seeking to implement multiple regulations that would severely restrict religious freedom.

The federal government seems to grow larger every year, not just through trillions in spending, but in how it regulates our daily lives.

Agency “regulations,” although they are not laws, have significant effects on the way Americans conduct business or live their lives.

The Biden administration has done little to hide the fact that its own regulations—and efforts to undo President Trump’s reforms—are aimed at advancing an aggressive cultural agenda many Americans disagree with.

Below is a snapshot of seven regulations expected to be advanced this year, and the chilling effect they could have on those who live and work according to their deeply held beliefs.


Section 1557 of Obamacare

Issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

Shortly after he took office, President Biden issued an executive order instructing his administration to reinterpret “sex” in federal laws to mean “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”

This new interpretation includes the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

Section 1557 of that law bans sex discrimination, but the regulation would expand that to create a scenario in which doctors and other health care professionals could be forced to perform experimental “gender transition” interventions on patients—even children.

These dangerous procedures can have harmful, lifelong, and irreversible consequences, including sterilization. For many health-care providers, performing these interventions would go against their medical judgment, religious beliefs, and consciences. The new regulation will also include a mandate to perform abortions.

President Biden’s HHS is overstepping its authority with this unlawful mandate. And by trampling the religious freedom of doctors, the agency is putting the health of children in danger.

Alliance Defending Freedom has filed suit in federal court against HHS on behalf of the American College of Pediatricians and the Catholic Medical Association. We have appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit after a lower court dismissed the case.


Contraceptive Mandate

Issued by HHS

In another Obamacare rule administered through HHS and other agencies, the Obama administration infamously tried to force businesses and even nuns to cover early abortifacient drugs and contraception in their employee health plans.

The Trump administration fixed that, issuing regulations that take those religious and moral burdens away, and the U.S. Supreme Court initially upheld those rules in July 2020.

But the Biden administration is trying to eliminate the Trump administration’s broad exemption for those who have moral objections to abortion and reimpose the mandate on them, regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision leaving the exemption in place—a blatant targeting of moral objectors.


Title IX

Issued by the Department of Education

The Biden administration’s reinterpretation of sex also has grave effects on schools at every level.

A Department of Education regulation would force women to compete against males in athletics and even to share private spaces like bathrooms, locker rooms, and dorm rooms with males.

The redefinition of sex also has free speech implications since those who don’t address individuals with their “preferred pronouns” could become a target for discrimination claims.

On the women’s sports front, ADF attorneys represent Lainey Armistead, who played soccer at West Virginia State University. Lainey intervened in a federal lawsuit to defend the state’s "Save Women’s Sports" law.

In March 2023, attorneys with ADF and the West Virginia attorney general’s office filed a motion asking the Supreme Court to reverse an appeals court’s injunction blocking West Virginia’s women’s sports law without providing any rationale.


HHS Grants Rule

Issued by HHS

A Christian foster care and adoption agency in Tennessee challenged yet another HHS rule that would require it to violate its religious beliefs or lose critical funding. ADF represented Holston United Methodist Home for Children in a federal lawsuit.

Even though Holston Home is a nationally accredited Christian nonprofit that cares for abused and neglected children, the Biden administration has revived an Obama-era rule that requires faith-based agencies to violate their beliefs by placing children in homes that do not align with the Christian faith. All this comes despite a unanimous Supreme Court ruling in 2021 that found the City of Philadelphia cannot exclude Catholic Social Services from the city’s foster care system due to its religious beliefs.

ADF’s litigation led to a court order stating that the HHS order is essentially defunct. But we stand ready to defend Holston Home and similar ministries should the Biden administration start to enforce this harmful rule anyway.


Religious Liberty & Free Inquiry Rule

Issued by the Department of Education

Public universities should not dictate how student organizations select their leaders.

A Trump-era rule ensured that student organizations remain free from school interference, relieving the burden that public universities often attempt to impose on them. But the Biden administration is seeking to repeal that rule to let universities reimpose this burden.

ADF attorneys representing Ratio Christi, a nationwide apologetics organization, have asked to intervene in a lawsuit in order to help defend religious freedom for student clubs.


Equal Treatment of Faith-Based Organizations

Issued by nine federal agencies, led by the Department of Justice

This was another Trump-era rule that relieved federal burdens on religious organizations, which are now in the crosshairs of the Biden administration. The “Equal Treatment” rule ensures that religious and non-religious organizations are treated equally when applying for federal funding.

It also clarifies that religious organizations do not lose their legal protections and rights just because they participate in federal programs and activities.

Cutting back on this protection, as the Biden administration proposes, could mean that faith-based organizations would be forced to violate their beliefs when it comes to hiring practices or abandon funding they deliver to the neediest of Americans.


Conscience Rule

Issued by HHS

Religious freedom does not stop when you walk into a doctor’s office or sign up for a health insurance plan.

The Trump administration’s HHS enacted a rule to enforce federal law and relieve the burden on medical professionals and employers when they are forced to participate in or pay for abortions or other procedures that violate their conscience.

But under President Biden, HHS is seeking to repeal that rule, and the agency has already taken several actions refusing to enforce these health-care conscience laws in the face of blatant violations.

ADF attorneys are representing a church in California that is being illegally forced by the state to cover abortions in its health insurance plan. The Biden administration decided in 2021 to fund California even though its coercive policy violates federal law.

Matt Bowman
Matt Bowman
Senior Counsel, Director of Regulatory Practice
Matt Bowman serves as senior counsel and director of regulatory practice at Alliance Defending Freedom, where he focuses on the impact of administrative law on religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and family.