On Thursday, January 18, the Administration announced the creation of the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within the HHS Office of Civil Rights.

The Administration described the responsibilities of the division as promoting and protecting religious freedom in HHS programs. The Office of Civil Rights Director Roger Severino said,

“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, and the new division will help guarantee that victims of unlawful discrimination find justice. 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.”

The announcement came a day before the annual “March for Life” event that gathers protesters in Washington against current abortion laws.

One of the concerns of critics is that HHS will or could use the office to allow or protect discrimination in the placement of children. Some states have or are considering legislation that allow for discrimination in the placement of children in foster care or adoptions or in the recruitment of parents if it violates religious beliefs of an agency. In some instances, these laws extend that to personal beliefs regardless of the agency affiliation. These practices which supersede the best interests of the child can extend to the use or promotion of practices such conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth.