New HHS office that protects religious rights has received more than 300 complaints from health workers

Legal and regulatory issues
HHS officials have said the new division was necessary so healthcare workers do not have to violate their religious or moral beliefs to do their jobs. (iStock/BCFC)

Since it opened in mid-January, the new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division of the HHS Office for Civil Rights has received more than 300 complaints from health workers.

In the month since it opened, the number of complaints have dwarfed the number of conscience complaints HHS previously received, according to The Hill. In the previous year of Trump's presidency, in contrast, HHS received 34 complaints. The workers say their employers have violated their religious or conscience rights.

Still, the number of complaints make up just a small fraction of the 18 million people working in the nation’s healthcare system. HHS and the Trump administration created the new division to investigate complaints, and protect doctors and other healthcare workers who have moral or religious objections to providing certain medical services like abortions or treating transgender patients.

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“We’ve announced to the world that we’re open for business and the public is responding," Roger Severino, the director of OCR, told The Hill.

RELATED: As complaints trickle in, protecting workers’ religious rights could cost health industry upward of $300M in first year

HHS officials said the new division was necessary so healthcare workers do not have to violate their religious or moral beliefs to do their jobs. Creation of the new division was controversial, however, with opponents saying it promotes discrimination against women, gay and transgender patients.

Meanwhile, in Texas, a lesbian couple has sued the federal government after a religious-based taxpayer-funded charity denied their chance to be foster parents, according to Lambda Legal, which filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday on their behalf. The lawsuit was filed against HHS and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The married couple, Fatma Marouf and Bryn Esplin, both professors at Texas A&M University, were denied the opportunity to even apply to serve as foster parents for refugee children by Catholic Charities of Fort Worth, said Lambda Legal, an LGBT rights nonprofit based in New York. The women were told they did not “mirror the Holy Family.”

HHS funds the program exclusively with taxpayer money and funded the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to perform federal child welfare services through its affiliates, even though the group made it clear it would use the funds to deny services to members of the public based on its religious beliefs, the legal group said.

“Being denied the opportunity to foster a child because we don’t 'mirror the Holy Family’—clearly code for being a same-sex couple—was hurtful and insulting to us. More than that, though, insisting on such a narrow, religious view of what a family must look like deprives these children of a nurturing, supportive home," said Esplin in the announcement about the lawsuit.  

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