Author archives: Jeremy Pilz

During the Pandemic, the Trump Administration Is Continuing to Protect Religious Freedom

by Connor Semelsberger, MPP , Jeremy Pilz

July 22, 2020

Yesterday, the Trump Administration announced further steps to protect religious freedom during the coronavirus pandemic. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the resolution of two recent complaints filed against hospitals for infringing on religious freedom.

in June 2020, OCR received a complaint from a woman named Susanna Marcus, alleging she had requested a visit from a priest for her critically injured husband, Sidney Marcus. However, Prince George’s Hospital Center of the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), the hospital where Sidney Marcus was admitted, denied the request. In late May 2020, Susanna and Sidney Marcus were involved in major car accident. Due to the nature of Sidney’s injuries, the couple was separated, and Sydney was placed in the intensive care unit. As a result of Sidney’s continued decline in health, Susanna requested a visit from a local priest for prayer at the hospital. The priest, however, was turned away by the hospital, based on a visitor exclusion policy adopted in response to COVID-19, despite being willing to wear any necessary personal protective equipment. In partnership with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), OCR provided technical assistance to the hospital based on federal guidance which provides that “facilities must ensure patients have adequate and lawful access to chaplains or clergy.” Following this action by OCR, Prince George’s Hospital Center came into compliance with the federal guidance and granted Sidney Marcus’s request to freely exercise his religion by allowing the Catholic priest to visit and administer the sacraments of Holy Communion and Anointing of the Sick to him.

This is significant because it concerns the ability of clergy to continue to operate and function during the coronavirus, something the administration made sure was included in nationwide guidance issued by the Department of Homeland Security. President Trump should be commended for ensuring clergy and pastors can continue to operate in this way and serve their communities during the coronavirus.

That same month, OCR also received a complaint from a medical student who was participating in rotations at the Staten Island University Hospital (SIUH) in New York City. As a part of their response to COVID-19, SIUH temporarily suspended medical student rotations at the hospital. To return to rotation, SIUH required students to wear N95 respirator masks while assisting patients. As a result, SIUH informed one student that he would need to shave his beard if he wanted to return to his rotation. In accordance with the tenets of his religion, this student has not shaved his beard. HHS then stepped in to provided technical assistance to the hospital, and ultimately, they granted the student an accommodation to wear alternative protective equipment in the hospital so that he would not have to shave his beard.

These actions by the Trump administration may seem like small regulatory resolutions, but what they show is a consistent and concerted effort by this administration to protect religious freedom for all Americans. Everyone’s ability to practice their faith must be protected, and the administration is accomplishing this in concrete ways with actions like what HHS did yesterday. This also demonstrates that in times of crisis like the one our country is facing now, this administration will not protect one civil liberty at the expense of another. From the onset of the pandemic, HHS and the Department of Justice have been diligent to enforce laws protecting everything from disability rights to the right churches have to freely worship. No matter the situation our country faces, the Office of Civil Rights at HHS is on duty, protecting the guard rails of civil rights like religious freedom.

If you have a been discriminated against by a healthcare provider or government agency for your religious beliefs, please visit hhs.gov/ocr to file a complaint.

Connor Semelsberger, MPP is the Legislative Assistant at Family Research Council.

Jeremy Pilz is a Policy and Government Affairs intern focusing on federal legislative affairs, with a concentration on pro-life issues.

Charity: Who Does It Best?

by Connor Semelsberger, MPP , Jeremy Pilz

July 7, 2020

One of the most well-known passages in the Bible is Matthew 25 where Jesus teaches his followers about charity. In this text, Jesus distinguishes between “sheep” and “goats.” On one hand are the sheep who are commended for selflessly serving those in need while on the other hand are the goats, those who are condemned for not caring for the naked, thirsty, or hungry. In a shocking statement, Jesus tells his disciples that how one treats the needy reflects their love for him.

Taking Jesus’ admonitions to heart, the Christian church has historically been on the front lines of performing charitable acts. However, recently the government continues to encroach on this space, expanding its role in providing a social safety net consisting of mostly large, impersonal programs. But instead of overtaking the important role of the church when it comes to practicing charity, the government should work to supplement and not supplant this vital calling of charitable organizations. 

Within the pages of the Bible, one can see many other references to the practice of charity. In fact, the word “charity” that is found in the Bible text is a translation of the Greek word “agape,” also meaning “love.” 1 Corinthians 13 suggests that charity is love when Paul writes: “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” The direct command to love and be charitable can be found in Matthew 22:39 when Jesus states that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Practicing charity by loving our neighbor is not only the responsibility of individual Christians, but of the church as a whole. Recently, Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) echoed these thoughts on the Senate floor by stating that “as religious believers we know that serving our fellow citizens, of whatever their religious faith…aiding them, working for them, is one of the signature ways that we show a love of neighbor.”

This calling from Scripture has also been voiced by Christian leaders on Capitol Hill. Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.) recently spoke about how non-profit organizations are a crucial part of our society during a Joint Economic Committee hearing on charitable giving. Churches and non-profits are the initial components of our social safety nets. Since churches and non-profits are often on the front lines of serving needy communities, they must take the lead when it comes to formulating public policy to address many of our nation’s social ills.

So why should the government allow the faith-based community and nonprofit sector to take the lead in this area?

First, the church and other non-profits have already proven that they can make significant contributions to society. Using a national survey of religious congregations in the United States, Duke Divinity School professor Mark Chaves found that 83 percent of congregations have some sort of program to help needy people in their communities. Religious organizations also provide approximately 35 percent of the country’s volunteer hours. Furthermore, Catholic nonprofits provide between 17 and 34 percent of all private social services, and, according to recent research by Brian Grim, President of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, religious institutions contribute $1.2 trillion to society and the United States economy every year, more than the top 10 tech companies’ contributions combined.

Even during the current coronavirus pandemic, the church and non-profits have stepped up. As Rev. Steve Woolley recently explained, “The important work of being Christ in the community, of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and healing the spiritually broken has continued through alternate pathways. Congregations have been able to funnel resources and time toward organizations like the Christian Aid Center, Homeless Alliance, Catholic Charities, United Way and others to see that needs continue to be met as best as can be done under the circumstances.”

Second, churches and non-profits can provide more well-rounded assistance for the people of the United States than the government at all levels. Churches and non-profits have the ability and means to provide more personal, one-on-one social services. As Pastor Gilford T. Monrose noted, “Each church can provide effective ministries and outreach services…” [filling] “a void only the church can.” Unlike many government programs that seem to just throw money at individuals or families, churches and non-profits invest physically, emotionally, and often spiritually in the lives of the people they minister to.

The government needs to supplement the charity work of churches and other non-profits, not supplant them. This is because of the church’s historic track record, the well-rounded services they provide, and out of respect for the call and command that Christians in particular have to practice charity. In the words of social welfare policy expert Michael Tanner, “We do have a responsibility to help the poor and those in need. That means taking care of them yourself—giving money yourself, giving your time, your efforts, not someone else’s.”

Connor Semelsberger, MPP is the Legislative Assistant at Family Research Council.

Jeremy Pilz is a Policy & Government Affairs intern at Family Research Council.

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