HHS Director for Office of Civil Rights: “Religious Freedom Should not be Dependent on Who Sits in My Office”

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Thus far, the Trump administration has taken strong steps to protect religious liberty for pro lifers and small business owners who have come under fire for their deeply-held religious convictions. 

Roger Severino serves as the director for the Office for Civil Rights under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In a recent interview with the Washington Examiner, Severino spoke about the importance of defending religious liberty.

“Religious freedom should not be dependent on who sits in my office. It’s too important for that,” Severino said. “I think it should be treated just like every other civil right where it is beyond debate that this is a fundamental right that’s enshrined in our Constitution.”

“There is a real problem out there of lack of respect for conscience and religious freedom that needs to be addressed and we are taking the concrete steps to finally address it.”

Roger Severino was appointed by President Trump as Director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights in April of last year.

Severino formerly served as the Director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society. As Director, his three main focuses where on religious liberty, marriage, and life issues.

His track record of defending religious liberty, natural marriage, and the sanctity of life go further back then his time at the Heritage Foundation. According to his official Heritage bio, “Severino previously was chief operations officer and legal counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, where he argued for the rights of religious believers and houses of worship to be free from discrimination and unjustified government burdens.”

The Trump administration has done several notable things in defense of religious liberty, such as the nomination of now Supreme Court Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch. The Trump administration also launched the Faith and Opportunity Initiative rolled out in early May. Trump said that the new initiative is designed to help religious organizations “strengthen the institutions of civil society and American families and communities.” Other actions viewed favorably by conservatives include Trump declaring a Religious Freedom Day, giving taxpayers relief from paying the Obamacare individual mandate penalty, as well as rolling back the birth control mandate of the so-called “Affordable Care Act” for religious employers.

In July, while speaking in front of the National Right to Life Committee’s annual convention in Kansas, Severino said, “Our president is fearless when it comes to life and conscience. We’re just getting started.”

According to Lifenews:

Recently, Severino’s office has been advocating for a pro-life nurse in Vermont who said her employer basically tricked her into helping abort an unborn baby. The nurse said she made it clear to her employer that she believes abortions are wrong; but they scheduled her to help with an abortion, telling her it was a miscarriage instead. The hospital denies any wrong-doing.

“This shouldn’t be a controversial issue,” Severino told the Examiner. “After Roe v. Wade, the American people came out in overwhelming numbers to say that whatever you think about the legality of abortion, you cannot coerce people to pay for it, or perform it, or assist in it. And most people who are pro-choice or pro-life can agree on that point, that you should not force people to violate their conscience on this deeply held belief …”

To address growing concerns about religious freedom, Severino created a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within HHS last year. Since then, he said they have investigated more than 343 complaints.

“That’s tremendous growth in part because in the previous administration there was insufficient attention paid to these issues, and we’ve signaled a new openness and we’ve been informing and educating the public that these rights have existed for decades,” he said.

In his interview with the Washington Examiner, Severino said he thinks more people are becoming aware of the importance of religious freedom. “… this is a right that had been under-enforced, [and] people were being discriminated against and felt they had nowhere to turn, and now they have somewhere to turn. And it would be a shame if that door ever closed on them again.”

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