Earlier this week, President Trump recognized National Religious Freedom Day, saying in a Jan. 16 proclamation, "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."
When asked by EWTN News Nightly about the likelihood of the new department surviving in future administrations, Severino responded, "It would be very difficult to undo the division. This is a foundational civil right. Everybody should be in favor of civil rights for all and that includes our first civil right, which is our right to free expression of religion and conscience. This is enforced through our laws that have been passed by bipartisan congresses and presidents in both parties that have been with us for decades. Those are not going to go away and we have to enforce those laws fully."
The Conscience and Religious Freedom Division will enforce existing protection statutes over which the Office of Civil Rights already has authority. This includes the Weldon Amendment, which stipulates that states receiving federal funds cannot discriminate against health plans that do not cover or pay for abortions. The division will also enforce Section 1553 of the Affordable Care Act on assisted suicide.
"Laws protecting religious freedom and conscience rights are just empty words on paper if they aren't enforced. No one should be forced to choose between helping sick people and living by one's deepest moral or religious convictions," said Severino in a press release.
For Americans who are concerned that they have experienced a violation of their conscience rights, Severino told CNA, "We are going to make it as user-friendly as possible, so that people know that the doors are open and that every complaint will be treated appropriately and given the attention it deserves and then those that require enforcement will be handled appropriately."
"We encourage anyone who believes that their conscience rights have been violated in a healthcare context to reach out to us. They are free to file a complaint. To get more information from our website, just google 'Office for Civil Rights HHS' and just add the word 'conscience.'"
Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.