Republican lawmakers are expressing deep concerns and seeking clarification from President Joe Biden’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regarding its new guidelines mandating agency employees to use their transgender coworkers’ “preferred pronouns.” Rep. Mary Miller (R-IL) is leading a group of GOP lawmakers in addressing a letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, raising questions about the constitutionality of this guidance, particularly concerning its impact on religious employees. The letter, obtained by Breitbart News, contends that the HHS is infringing upon the First Amendment rights of its employees.
The lawmakers’ concerns stem from an alleged HHS internal email, which outlines the agency’s “Gender Identity and Non-Discrimination Guidance” introduced in early October. According to the email, the policy instructs all employees to address each other by the names and pronouns individuals use to describe themselves. The HHS has also published a video emphasizing the policy’s goal of promoting authenticity and inclusion, irrespective of gender identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, or disability status.
However, the policy’s stance on accommodating employees with religious objections remains unclear. The lawmakers worry that religious employees may not be exempted from affirming transgender individuals’ identities.
The new policy extends beyond pronoun usage and allows employees to wear clothing and use restrooms corresponding to their “gender identity.” It also recommends adapting IT systems to reflect an employee’s transgender status in official records and offers department-level coordination for anti-discrimination protections.
Roger Severino, vice president of domestic policy for the Heritage Foundation and a former director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights under the Trump administration, asserted that the HHS’s gender ideology policy is based on ideology rather than science and evidence. He expressed concerns that the policy could potentially target Christian employees, given the Biden administration’s prioritization of gender ideology over free speech and religious freedom rights.
In the letter to Secretary Becerra, lawmakers seek answers to various questions regarding the policy, its legal justifications, potential infringements on First Amendment rights, and mechanisms for employees to opt out due to deeply held beliefs. They also inquire about safety-related incidents and the scientific evidence behind certain aspects of the policy. The lawmakers emphasize the need for clarity and transparency in the face of concerns about First Amendment rights and religious liberty.
Several prominent Republican representatives, including Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Jim Banks (R-IN), and others, signed the letter. They assert that the Biden administration’s approach raises concerns about the First Amendment and religious liberty rights enshrined in the Constitution and emphasize the importance of receiving answers as Congress deliberates on the HHS appropriations bill and funding levels for the department.