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WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Trump administration is announcing the formation of the new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The press release states the division will be under the Office for Civil Rights, adding it's purpose is to "restore federal enforcement of our nation's laws that protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious freedom."
It continues, "The creation of the new division will provide HHS with the focus it needs to more vigorously and effectively enforce existing laws protecting the rights of conscience and religious freedom, the first freedom protected in the Bill of Rights."
The division pledges to protect the rights of health care providers refusing to perform, accommodate or assist in sterilizations, abortions and other procedures that violate their religious beliefs.
It also extends protection to providers refusing to take part in assisted suicide and euthanasia.
Roger Severino, OCR Director, comments, "Laws protecting religious freedom and conscience rights are just empty words on paper if they aren't enforced." He adds, "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."
He continues, "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.
Acting HHS Secretary Eric Hargan asserts, "President Trump promised the American people that his administration would vigorously uphold the rights of conscience and religious freedom. That promise is being kept today." He continued, "The Founding Fathers knew that a nation that respects conscience rights is more diverse and more free, and OCR's new division will help make that vision a reality."
On January 16, the White House declared Religious Freedom Day. In the announcement, Trump commented, "Our forefathers, seeking refuge from religious persecution, believed in the eternal truth that freedom is not a gift from the government but a sacred right from Almighty God." He continued:
Our Constitution and laws guarantee Americans the right not just to believe as they see fit but to freely exercise their religion. Unfortunately, not all have recognized the importance of religious freedom, whether by threatening tax consequences for particular forms of religious speech or forcing people to comply with laws that violate their core religious beliefs without sufficient justification.
He added, "No American — whether a nun, nurse, baker or business owner — should be forced to choose between the tenets of faith or adherence to the law," speaking of recent cases where the Little Sisters of the Poor were persecuted by the Obama administration for refusing to provide contraceptives in their insurance program.
This is the latest in a series of pro-life moves made by the Trump administration. It was announced that Trump will be the first U.S. president to address the March for Life in Washington on January 19.
Other presidents like George Bush sent recorded messages but Trump will be the first to address the crowd live via a video feed.
Last year, he sent Vice President Mike Pence and Kellyanne Conway to speak on his administration's behalf.