The United States was founded on the ideal that all people are created equal. But throughout our history, we have failed to deliver on the promise of equal opportunity and treatment for all people. The COVID-19 pandemic and a long-overdue racial reckoning have thrown disparities in our laws, policies, and institutions into sharp relief. To live up to the promises of our nation’s founding, it is essential that we address inequality in every aspect of the federal government, and work to develop policies that are consistent, equiquitable, and fair.
On May 5, 2021, the Office of Office of Management and Budget issued a request for information, seeking input on how government programs and policies can more equitably serve all people, particularly those who have been historically underserved. This comes following a directive from President Biden ordering the Office of Management and Budget to assess whether federal policies and programs allow for full and equal participation.
Interfaith Alliance submitted written comments to address how the government can equitably serve people of all faiths, backgrounds, and experiences. It is our hope that, in partnership with the Biden administration, we can create a more prosperous future that ensures all Americans can thrive.
Contractors and grant recipients must serve all people – without exception.
The federal government provides funds to organizations that administer social services, such as connecting new parents with nutritional supports or providing care to the elderly. With a handful of exceptions, hundreds of faith-based organizations provide invaluable services to those in need, regardless of who an applicant is or what they believe. But some seek to use religious freedom as an exemption from nondiscrimination protections, allowing organizations to reject those seeking help because they do not live, love, or worship as they do.
When faith-based providers refuse to serve someone simply because of who they are or what they believe, they put the wellbeing of the person seeking help at risk and potentially deter them from seeking help in the future. In its review of government policies and programs, we urge the Biden administration to ensure that taxpayer funds are being used to provide all people in need the services they are eligible to receive, without exception.
Contractors and grant recipients must provide all services they are funded to offer.
We are often at our most vulnerable when seeking social services and depend on our provider to act in our best interests. It is essential that those seeking help understand their options and are able to easily access the support they need. But some funding recipients use a religious exemption to refuse to provide certain services they would otherwise be able to provide. This puts an unnecessary burden on those in need, as they may not be aware of what services they are eligible for or how to seek them out.
All organizations should be evaluated based upon what services they are willing to provide, not just those they are able to. Doing so will allow the federal government to make informed decisions about what organizations are best situated to get people seeking help for the services they require.
Education funding should prioritize students of all faiths, identities, and abilities.
Ensuring every child receives a quality education is a top priority in communities across the country. But while public schools are required to serve students of all backgrounds and experiences, private schools are not held to the same standard. Voucher programs divert taxpayer funds away from public schools towards private, often religious alternatives.
Private school voucher programs threaten vital funding for public schools and demonstrably decrease equity for historically underserved communities. To better serve students now and for the future, our government must invest in strong public schools and not private alternatives.
Hate crime response and prevention must be directed by impacted communities
Any crime committed by one person against another is a tragedy but hate crimes are uniquely damaging, impacting those targeted, their loved ones, and the larger group they represent. Hate crimes create a sense of fear and instability that can endure long after the incident has passed.
To promote equitable responses to acts of hate, the government must closely partner with directly impacted communities and the organizations who serve them. By centering responses on the knowledge and networks of these organizations, the Biden administration can help create community environments in which all of us feel safe and empowered to thrive.
Federal Land Management Must Honor Native American Religious Freedom
Preservation of sacred land is a matter of religious freedom. Harm to sacred sites directly impacts the ability of Native Americans’ to practice their religious beliefs as guaranteed by the First Amendment. But longstanding U.S. laws and policies have not recognized and respected Native Americans’ religious freedom, often instead prioritizing development and corporate interests.
To protect Native Americans’ religious freedom now and for future generations, our leaders in the federal government must embrace a vision of land conservation that prioritizes Native perspectives and religious practices.
Interfaith Alliance remains dedicated to pursuing and inclusive vision of religious freedom that protects historically marginalized groups that have been targets of discrimination. In their review, the Office of Management and Budget has the opportunity to move towards a more just equitable future. Interfaith Alliance Foundation looks forward to partnering with President Biden and the agencies to advance equity and ensure that all Americans can thrive.