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Proposed State Department Rules Could Limit Work of Christian Humanitarian Groups

Several Christian ministries filed official comments asking for changes to the employment regulations

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Several Christian ministries are raising concerns about a proposed addition to Department of State regulations that would limit the employment decisions of those accepting foreign assistance.

The Accord Network, Samaritan’s Purse, Christian Legal Society, and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention, along with others, filed an official comment about the proposed changes.

The proposal “expressly states that recipients and subrecipients receiving Department-funded foreign assistance funds must not discriminate on specified bases against end users of supplies or services (also referred to in this rule as beneficiaries and potential beneficiaries) or in certain employment decisions.”

The Christian ministries agree that they should not discriminate against beneficiaries, but have serious “concerns” about the rules governing employment decisions.

Many of these faith-based humanitarian ministries make employment decisions that are guided by religious beliefs to which they adhere.

According to the ERLC, the rules would “not allow [faith-based organizations] to consider sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in the hiring process in order to remain eligible for foreign aid funding.”

“Hiring staff members that reflect the religious beliefs of an organization is a long-standing pillar of religious liberty protections,” the ERLC stated.

Samaritan’s Purse president Franklin Graham said, These proposed State Department regulations could be used to force faith-based organizations like Samaritan’s Purse to hire staff who disagree with our core biblical beliefs about God’s design for marriage, sexuality, and gender in order to be eligible for government grants.”

“Samaritan’s Purse is a Christian organization and we will not compromise on the fundamental principle of hiring like-minded Christians who share our calling, our stand on the authority of God’s Word, and our statement of faith,” he added.

Faith-based ministries play a key role in the foreign assistance work of the United States. Religious groups make up 50 of the largest foreign assistance grant recipients and received $613 million in funding in Fiscal Year 2023.

The groups have provided water, sanitation, hygiene products, refugee support, counter trafficking efforts, health care, and justice system support in over 100 countries around the world, the comment memo stated.

They ought to be able to continue this work and “compete on a level playing field with secular organizations for federal financial assistance,” the comment memo reads.

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Only about 6% of Samaritan’s Purse funding comes from government grants and even less from the State Department, Graham said.

“But with those grants, we are able to assist tens of thousands of people around the world. We do all of this without placing any conditions or requirements on the aid. We help those who are in need, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or anything else,” he noted.

The faith-based groups asked the Department of State to make some changes to its proposed rules regarding nondiscrimination.

First, the groups ask the regulations to state clearly that the State Department recognizes that laws such as the First Amendment, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protect the rights of faith-based groups from the proposed employment nondiscrimination rules.

Second, rather than have a waiver process, the groups ask that a “categorical exemption” of religious organizations be adopted.

In conjunction with the categorical exemption, the groups propose there be a presumption of exemption for religious groups, and that the State Department bear the burden of proving that an applicant who claims a religious exemption does not qualify for it.

Christian Legal Society shared an email asking supporters to sign an open letter to the State Department opposing the regulatory changes.

It reads in part, “I strongly oppose the U.S. State Department’s consideration of new regulations that will cut off grants and contracts to Christian—and all faith-based—relief organizations that require their employees to share their faith and their religious values.”

“It is unconstitutional and immoral for the U.S. government to target Christian and faith-based relief organizations on the basis of their religious faith,” it adds.

Signers of the letter are asked to include a mailing address, email address, and phone number. It doesn’t ask for financial support.

In the MinistryWatch database, Christian Legal Society has a donor confidence score of 88 and  Samaritan’s Purse has a donor confidence score of 56. The Accord Network and ERLC are not in the database, but the ERLC is a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

Main photo: Samaritan’s Purse operating medical facilities in Central Ukraine in April 2022 / Photo courtesy of Samaritan’s Purse

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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a freelance writer who holds a Juris Doctorate from Baylor University. She has home schooled her three children and is happily married to her husband of 25 years.