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Partnering with Faith-Based and Community Organizations to Better Serve People in Need

Posted by Norah Deluhery, Director, Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships in Initiatives
Aug 05, 2015

At USDA we work through partnerships to provide opportunities to people in need.  Through relationships with both faith-based and secular community organizations, we are able to achieve our shared goals representative of America’s core values of caring for each other, including making sure that every family and every child is healthy and hunger free. Our partners serve thousands of Americans each day, providing emergency food assistance to families and nutritious meals to kids in the summer when school is closed.

Partnerships with community organizations are critical; fidelity to constitutional principles is equally important.   So we have worked to develop regulations that will ensure that we can continue to partner with faith-based organizations in the delivery of USDA-supported services, while ensuring that the religious liberty of those organizations as well as families and taxpayers is respected.

Today, along with eight other federal agencies, we proposed rules to implement Executive Order 13559, Fundamental Principles and Policymaking Criteria for Partnerships With Faith-Based and Other Neighborhood Organizations.  This executive order includes reforms to clarify the relationship between religious bodies and government entities and adopts recommendations made by the first Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which brought a diverse group of leaders and experts in order to make recommendations to the Administration on how to improve the partnerships it forms to serve people in need. For example, the proposed rules:

  1. State specifically that decisions about awards of federal financial assistance must be free from political interference and based solely on merit, not on the basis of religion or religious belief.
  2. Add new protections for beneficiaries of programs supported by direct USDA financial assistance. Faith-based organizations would be required to provide beneficiaries with a written notice informing them of their religious liberty protections, including the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of religion or religious belief.  Also, if the beneficiary were to object to the religious character of the serving organization, the organization would be required to take steps to refer the beneficiary to an alternate provider of services.
  3. Make changes to existing regulations that make it more clear to our partner organizations how they must comply with existing requirements that protect beneficiaries’ religious rights.  Specifically, the rule would clarify the definition of “direct” and “indirect” financial assistance so that our partners have a clear understanding of when particular rules apply.  The rule would also replace the term “inherently religious activities” with the term “explicitly religious activities,” for which use of direct USDA assistance is prohibited.

Because we want to ensure that we are best supporting both our partners and our clients, we are asking for your feedback and input on the proposed rule.  If you would like to share your ideas, you can do so through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at  Don’t forget to reference RIN 0503-AA55 and the title of this rule, Equal Opportunity for Religious Organizations in USDA Programs: Implementation of EO 13559.  You can also send your comments by mail to me, Norah Deluhery, Director, Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC  20250

Category/Topic: Initiatives