skip to main content

H.R. 4265: Eliminating the HHS Discrimination Division Act of 2021


In existence since 2018, many Democrats believe the CRFD should be repealed.

Context

The hospital who, citing social distancing measures, denied a new mother who had contracted COVID-19 a visit by a Catholic priest.

The medical student who was required to shave his beard in order to wear the N95 respirator mask, in violation of his religious beliefs.

The hospital who forced a nurse to assist in performing an abortion, even though the nurse requested not to because of her objections to the procedure.

When generally-applicable healthcare statutes or policies come into conflict with individuals’ religious rights, which should prevail? In recent years, the debate has become more pronounced.

In January 2018, the Donald Trump administration created a new governmental division aimed at protecting the religious-rights side of the equation: the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division (CRFD). It proved controversial from the moment it was announced.

What the bill does

The Eliminating the HHS Discrimination Division Act would put an end to that division.

It was introduced in the House on June 30 as H.R. 4265, by Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT5).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that the bill would eliminate a bureaucracy while still preserving some religious exemptions on the books in federal law, perhaps most famously those in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

“I have been vocal about my personal faith journey, but nobody should be forced to live their life according to the religious values of another,” Rep. Hayes said in a press release. “The [CRFD] attempts to do just that. Instead of fulfilling the intended goal of the Office of Civil Rights to protect patients, the Trump Administration is wasting taxpayer dollars solving a problem that does not exist. This bill does not end religious exemptions, instead it eliminates a wasteful government division.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that the division is a necessary bulwark in the face of frequent attacks on religious practitioners’ rights in a country where freedom of religion is protected by the First Amendment.

“Laws protecting religious freedom and conscience rights are just empty words on paper if they aren’t enforced,” Trump’s HHS Office of Civil Rights director Roger Severino said in a 2018 press release announcing the new division. “No one should be forced to choose between helping sick people and living by one’s deepest moral or religious convictions, and the new division will help guarantee that victims of unlawful discrimination find justice.

“For too long, governments big and small have treated conscience claims with hostility instead of protection, but change is coming and it begins here and now.”

Odds of passage

The bill was previously introduced in 2018 by former Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM1), only a month after the division was announced. It attracted three cosponsors, all Democrats, but never received a vote in the then-Republican controlled House committee.

Rep. Hayes introduced it in 2020. It attracted 11 cosponsors, all Democrats. Despite the party controlling the House by that time, it again failed to receive a committee vote.

The current version has so far attracted a somewhat smaller five cosponsors, all Democrats. It awaits a potential vote in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Last updated Jul 22, 2021. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jun 30, 2021.


Eliminating the HHS Discrimination Division Act of 2021

This bill eliminates the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and prohibits the use of federal funds to establish or operate a similar entity with respect to HHS programs and activities.