A Labor of Faith-Based Love

May 22, 2020

From hero to homeless. It wasn't the life that veteran Randall Sarratt imagined. But, like so many of our brave men and women, leaving the military only meant facing a new battle at home. For six years he lived on the streets, trying to scrape together enough money to survive. Then, a meeting with a California charity changed his life. He applied for a housing voucher, then a job -- all with help from the Department of Labor's Homeless Veterans' Reintegration Program. They bought Randall clothes, a new suit and tie, even a bus pass. It was, he said, "the best decision ever" to get help. And thanks to the DOL's partnership with groups like the Salvation Army, Goodwill, Easter Seals, Catholic Charities, and others, he won't be the only one.

Today, Randall is a "model tenant." He's off the streets, happily employed, and setting an example so impressive that his landlord is thinking of taking in more veterans through HVRP program. A lot of that wouldn't have been possible without faith-based groups and charities. Together with the Labor Department, their outreach isn't just having a huge impact on homelessness -- but job training, substance abuse recovery, youth leadership, the opioid epidemic, and more. And, more often than not, those religious partners have been effective in ways government agencies are not.

That's why, Secretary Eugene Scalia says, the department needs more involvement with the faith community -- not less. And, late last week, he cleared the way for his agency to accomplish that -- issuing an important memo on the value of religious liberty to his employees and DOL partners. For freedom-loving Americans, it's huge step forward. To Scalia, it's just another day in the office. "I guess in some ways," he told me on "Washington Watch," "it's surprising to me that this is surprising to others... It shouldn't be news, but it is."

Religious freedom "is so fundamental to society," he said, that we shouldn't need to release memos like the Department of Labor's. "But as important as religion and religious liberty are in our society, we know that in ... some of the most sophisticated and powerful quarters of our society, religion is something that's looked on dimly and is under attack in certain respects. And so, this memo we issued is just one of a number of things that the administration is trying to do to push back and protect religious liberty."

With this latest guidance, Secretary Scalia joins a slew of Trump agencies like Justice, HHS, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, Agriculture, Education, and even USAID in making sure that faith-based groups are on equal footing with everyone else. After eight years of being treated like second-class citizens under the previous administration, Scalia is asking his team to "incorporate respect for religious freedom" back into his department's daily operations -- including decisions like grant awards.

"If there's not a thoughtful defense of Americans' religious liberty -- which, needless to say, is a liberty for people of all faiths -- then that freedom will be eroded," Scalia warned. It could be subtle at first, but in the end, the gradual wear and tear affects everyone -- especially people like Randall, who benefit from the services the church provides.

One of the things Scalia is trying to change is the Obama-era hostility toward these faith-based groups competing for federal dollars. "[The previous administration] had a rule that said that if you were a federal grantee providing services, let's say, to the homeless, and you happened to be a religious organization -- and of course, we know that it's part of the fabric of so many different faiths to help the poor, help the needy. But this rule said that if you're a religious organization seeking to help the poor and needy and taking federal grants, you have to provide a special warning to recipients of that aid that you believe in God -- and even tell them how to complain if you try to proselytize. And these were burdens only put on religious organizations." That's the kind of open and unconstitutional discrimination his agency is working to weed out.

There are a lot of hurting people right now, Scalia pointed out. Thirty-eight million people filing unemployment in the pandemic alone. "As we seek to help them, we should welcome in religious organizations -- not make it harder for them. And that includes respecting when those religious organizations [are] deciding who's going to work there. Preserving the faith within the religious organization is important to the faith itself... We want religious institutions to keep their identity while also providing help to the public and helping the federal government in doing so."

Our deepest gratitude to Secretary Scalia -- and all of the administration's men and women -- who are doing their part to rebuild our legacy of liberty.

For more breaking news on the Trump administration's religious freedom agenda, check out this post from earlier today!