Under the President’s Federal government-wide Executive Order “Fundamental Principles and Policymaking Criteria for Partnerships With Faith-based and Other Neighborhood Organizations”, signed into law on August 2, 2015, VA is proposing to amend regulations enacted under 2003’s ‘‘Equal Protection of Laws for Faith-Based and Community Organizations’’ in order to eliminate confusing language that may prevent or delay services to Veterans, make grant decisions more fair or bolster religious freedoms of Veterans when receiving services from a faith-based organization.
One of the proposed reforms involves the simple changing of the phrase “inherently religious activities” to “explicitly religious activities.” While it may appear to be a small change, it is indeed a very important change when providing financial assistance to faith-based partners. By law, the federal government is prohibited from providing funds to pay for religious activities such devotional exercises, worship, or dissemination of devotional guides or other religious materials.
However, when applied specifically to VA and the Veterans we serve, the federal government can provide funding to a faith-based organization that provides benefits and services to Veterans as long as the organization does not use the funds to promote religion. This funding must directly benefit Veterans free and clear of any the previously listed religious activities.
The proposed change removes room for interpretation by individuals and narrowly defines religious activity that could determine if federal funds can, or cannot be, awarded to a faith-based organizations to provide services to veterans.
The other proposed changes similarly seek to clarify current policy, level the playing field, and strengthen the rights of Veterans
The proposed changes are open for public comment and are due no later than Oct.5, 2015. Comments can be submitted by using the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov. All comments will be available to the public, without charge, at www.regulations.gov and at the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships during normal business hours.