IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES
January 25, 2023
Mr. Rubio (for himself, Mr. Hawley, Mr. Scott of Florida, and Mr. Lankford) introduced the following bill; which was read twice and referred to the Committee on Finance
To ensure equal treatment for religious organizations in the Federal provision of social services programs, grantmaking, and contracting, and for other purposes.
This Act may be cited as the
Lifting Local Communities Act.
The purposes of this Act are the following:
To enable assistance to be provided to individuals and families in need in the most effective manner.
To prohibit discrimination against religious organizations in receipt and administration of Federal financial assistance, including the provision of that assistance through federally funded social service programs.
To ensure that religious organizations can apply and compete for Federal financial assistance on a level playing field with nonreligious organizations.
To provide certainty for religious organizations that receipt of Federal financial assistance will not obstruct or hinder their ability to organize and operate in accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs.
To strengthen the social service capacity of the United States by facilitating the entry of new, and the expansion of existing, efforts by religious organizations in the administration and provision of Federal financial assistance.
To protect the religious freedom of, and better serve, individuals and families in need, including by expanding their ability to choose to receive federally funded social services from religious organizations.
Provision of services for government programs by religious organizations
Title XXIV of the Revised Statutes is amended by inserting after section 1990 (42 U.S.C. 1994) the following:
Ensuring equal treatment for religious organizations in Federal provision of social services, grantmaking, and contracting
For any social services program carried out by the Federal Government, or by a State, local government, or pass-through entity with Federal funds, the entity that awards Federal financial assistance shall consider religious organizations, on the same basis as any other private organization, to provide services for the program.
Equal treatment for religious organizations in Federal financial assistance
A religious organization shall be eligible to apply for and to receive Federal financial assistance to provide services for a social services program on the same basis as a private nonreligious organization.
In the selection of recipients for Federal financial assistance for a social services program neither the Federal Government nor a State, local government, or pass-through entity receiving funds for such program may discriminate for or against a private organization on the basis of religion, including the organization's religious character, affiliation, or exercise.
Prohibition against improper burden on religious organizations
Except in the case of another applicable provision of law that requires or provides for a religious exemption or accommodation that is equally or more protective of a religious organization’s religious exercise, the provisions of subparagraphs (B) through (E) shall apply for any social services program administered by the Federal Government or by a State, local government, or pass-through entity.
Equal treatment on assurances and notices
No document, agreement, covenant, memorandum of understanding, policy, or regulation, relating to Federal financial assistance shall require religious organizations to provide assurances or notices that are not required of private nonreligious organizations.
Equal application of restrictions
Any restrictions on the use of funds received as Federal financial assistance shall apply equally to religious and private nonreligious organizations.
All organizations that receive Federal financial assistance for a social services program, including religious organizations, shall carry out eligible activities in accordance with all program requirements, and other applicable requirements governing the conduct of activities funded by the entity that awards Federal financial assistance.
No disqualification based on religion
No document, agreement, covenant, memorandum of understanding, policy, or regulation, relating to Federal financial assistance shall—
disqualify religious organizations from applying for or receiving Federal financial assistance for a social services program on the basis of the organization’s religious character or affiliation, or grounds that discriminate against the organization on the basis of the organization’s religious exercise; or
prohibit the provision of religious activities or services at the same time or location as any program receiving such Federal financial assistance.
Religious character and freedom
A religious organization that applies for or receives Federal financial assistance for a social services program shall retain its independence from Federal, State, and local governments, including its autonomy, right of expression, religious character or affiliation, authority over its internal governance, and other aspects of independence.
A religious organization that applies for or receives Federal financial assistance for a social services program may, among other things—
retain religious terms in the organization's name;
continue to carry out the organization's mission, including the definition, development, practice, and expression of its religious beliefs;
use the organization's facilities to provide a program without concealing, removing, or altering religious art, icons, scriptures, or other symbols from the facilities;
select, promote, or dismiss the members of the organization’s governing body and the organization’s employees on the basis of their acceptance of or adherence to the religious tenets of the organization; and
include religious references in the organization's mission statement and other chartering or governing documents.
Rights of covered beneficiaries of services
Except as otherwise provided in any applicable provision of law that requires or provides for a religious exemption or accommodation that is equally or more protective of a religious organization’s religious exercise, an organization that receives Federal financial assistance under a social services program shall not discriminate against a covered beneficiary in the provision of a federally funded program on the basis of religion, a religious belief, or a refusal to hold a religious belief.
It shall not be considered discrimination under paragraph (1) for a program funded by Federal financial assistance to refuse to modify any components of the program to accommodate a covered beneficiary who participates in the organization’s program.
If a covered beneficiary has an objection to the character or affiliation of the private organization from which the beneficiary receives, or would receive, services as part of the federally funded social services program, the appropriate Federal, State, or local governmental entity shall provide to such beneficiary (if otherwise eligible for such services) within a reasonable period of time after the date of such objection, a referral for alternative services that—
are reasonably accessible to the covered beneficiary; and
have a substantially similar value to the services that the covered beneficiary would initially have received from such organization.
In this subsection, the term covered beneficiary means an individual who applies for or receives services under a social services program.
A religious organization’s exemptions, in title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq.) (including exemption from prohibitions in employment discrimination in section 702(a) of that Act (42 U.S.C. 2000e–1(a))), title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (42 U.S.C. 3601 et seq.), title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (20 U.S.C. 1681 et seq.), the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq.), the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (42 U.S.C. 2000bb et seq.), the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (42 U.S.C. 2000cc et seq.), or any other provision in law providing an exemption for a religious organization, shall not be waived because of the religious organization's participation in, or receipt of funds from, a social services program funded with Federal financial assistance.
A religious organization providing services for a social services program using Federal financial assistance may segregate Federal funds and any required matching funds provided for such program into a separate account or accounts. Only the separate accounts consisting of Federal funds and any required matching funds shall be subject to audit by the Federal Government with respect to an audit undertaken for the purposes of oversight of Federal financial assistance.
Commingling of funds
If a religious organization providing services for a social services program using Federal financial assistance contributes the organization's own funds in addition to those funds required by a matching requirement or agreement to supplement Federal funds, the organization may segregate the organization's own funds that are not matching funds into separate accounts, or commingle the organization's own funds that are not matching funds with the matching funds. If those funds are commingled, the commingled funds may all be subject to audit by the Federal Government.
Private right of action
Any religious organization that alleges a violation of its rights under this section and seeks to enforce its rights under this section—
may bring an action in a court of competent jurisdiction and assert that violation as a claim, or assert that violation as a defense in a judicial action; and
may obtain appropriate relief, including attorney’s fees, against an entity or agency that committed such violation.
Federal preemption of State and local laws
With respect to any Federal financial assistance provided to a religious organization for the provision of a social service program, or such assistance commingled with State or local funds, no State or political subdivision of a State may adopt, maintain, enforce, or continue in effect any law, regulation, rule, or requirement covered by the provisions of this section, or a rule, regulation, or requirement promulgated under this section.
The provisions of this section shall supersede all Federal law (including statutory and other law, and policies used in the implementation of that law) that is enacted or issued before the date of enactment of this section. No provision of law enacted after the date of the enactment of this section may be construed as limiting, superseding, or otherwise affecting this section, except to the extent that it does so by specific reference to this section.
If any provision of this section or the application of such provision to any person or circumstance is held to be unconstitutional, the remainder of this section and the application of the provisions of such to any person or circumstance shall not be affected thereby.
In this section:
Discriminate on the basis of an organization’s religious exercise
The term discriminate, used with respect to an organization’s religious exercise, means, on the basis of covered conduct or motivation, to disfavor an organization in a selection process or in oversight, including—
by failing to select an organization;
by disqualifying an organization; or
by imposing any condition or selection criterion that penalizes or otherwise disfavors an organization, or has the effect of so penalizing or disfavoring an organization.
Covered conduct or motivation
In this paragraph, the term covered conduct or motivation means—
conduct that would not be considered grounds to disfavor a nonreligious organization;
conduct for which an organization must or could be granted an exemption or accommodation in a manner consistent with the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (42 U.S.C. 2000bb et seq.), or any other provision referenced in subsection (e); or
the actual or suspected religious motivation for the organization’s religious exercise.
Federal financial assistance
The term Federal financial assistance means financial assistance from the Federal Government that non-Federal entities receive or administer through grants, contracts, loans, loan guarantees, property, cooperative agreements, food commodities, direct appropriations, or other assistance, but does not include a tax credit, tax deduction, or guaranty contract.
The term pass-through entity means an entity, including a nonprofit or nongovernmental organization, acting under a grant, contract, or other agreement with the Federal Government or with a State or local government, such as a State administering agency, that accepts direct Federal financial assistance as a primary recipient (such as a grant recipient) and distributes that assistance to other organizations that, in turn, provide government-funded social services through a social services program.
The term program includes the services provided through that program.
The term religious exercise has the meaning given the term in section 8 of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (42 U.S.C. 2000cc–5).
The term services, used with respect to a social services program, includes the provision of goods, or of financial assistance, under the social services program.
Social services program
The term social services program—
means a program that is administered by the Federal Government, or by a State or local government using Federal financial assistance, and that provides services directed at reducing poverty, improving opportunities for low-income children, revitalizing low-income communities, empowering low-income families and low-income individuals to become self-sufficient, or otherwise helping people in need; and
includes a program that provides, to people in need—
child care services, protective services for children and adults, services for children and adults in foster care, adoption services, services related to management and maintenance of the home, day care services for adults, and services to meet the special needs of children, older individuals, and individuals with disabilities;
job training and related services, and employment services;
information, referral, and counseling services;
the preparation and delivery of meals, nutrition services, and services related to soup kitchens or food banks;
health support services;
literacy and mentoring services;
services for the prevention and treatment of juvenile delinquency and substance abuse, services for the prevention of crime and the provision of assistance to the victims and families of criminal offenders, and services related to intervention in, and prevention of, domestic violence; or
services related to the provision of assistance for housing under Federal law.