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New rules for foreign aid threaten help for needy, bishops say

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken


John Burger - published on 03/26/24

State Department proposes criteria to prevent discrimination based on race and religion, as well as gender identity and sexual orientation.

The US Catholic Bishops’ Conference is warning that a US State Department proposal to hold foreign assistance programs to “nondiscrimination” rules will hurt individuals in need of aid.

On January 19, the State Department issued two notices of proposed rulemaking (NPRMs) that would establish “nondiscrimination” requirements for foreign assistance, one for award recipients and subrecipients, the other for contractors and subcontractors.

The two would impose a new “award term” and “contract clause,” respectively, for all State Department foreign assistance solicitations, awards, and contracts.

The proposed term and clause would prohibit recipients and contractors from discriminating “on the basis of race, ethnicity, color, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, sex characteristics, pregnancy, national origin, disability, age, genetic information, indigeneity, marital status, parental status, political affiliation, or veteran’s status.”

William J. Quinn, General Counsel, and Daniel E. Balserak, Assistant General Counsel and Director, Religious Liberty of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), said in a nine-page letter that some aspects of the proposal could “chill Catholic entities’ participation in foreign aid programs, potentially depriving the intended beneficiaries of those programs of the excellent care and service that Catholic ministries provide.”

Catholic care around the world

According to the USCCB, as of 2021, the health, charity, and assistance institutions managed by the Catholic Church included: 5,405 hospitals, 14,205 dispensaries (health clinics), 567 hospitals for people with leprosy, 15,276 homes for the elderly, chronically ill, and those with disabilities, 9,703 orphanages, 10,567 nursery schools, 10,604 marriage counseling centers, and 3,287 social rehabilitation centers.

Quinn and Balserak warned that the proposal could effectively become a “mechanism of ideological colonization” and “prove injurious .. .rather than fostering peace.”

The bishops’ officials thus took up a term often used by Pope Francis — ideological colonization — referring to the Western world imposing trends on poorer countries, particularly in terms of gender ideology.

“We respectfully urge [the State Department] to also ensure that the NPRMs honor religious liberty and avoid forcing harmful ideologies on sovereign states or their citizens as a price for the aid they need,” they said.

The Federalist Society said that prohibited discrimination explicitly includes “withholding,” “denying,” or “adversely impacting” “equitable access” to federally funded foreign assistance benefits, supplies, or services. The State Department does not define the term “equitable access,” and it is unclear whether it means equal opportunity access or something else:

Notably, the NPRMs would prohibit discrimination based on “sex,” as well as “gender,” “gender identity or expression,” and “sex characteristics.” State does not define these terms, and it is unclear whether they are distinct or overlapping bases. State likewise does not define discrimination based on “pregnancy” but, consistent with the Biden administration’s pro-abortion policies, will likely interpret the term to include abortion and contraception.

Senators weigh in

The proposals have drawn the attention of members of Congress. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Maryland Democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the regulations “boldly affirm our unwavering commitment to ensuring equal access to U.S. foreign assistance, challenging the assertion that instilling fairness somehow represents a ‘woke agenda.’”

But a number of other senators, led by Marco Rubio, R-Florida, senior member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken [pictured above] saying the proposed rule “contemplates a future in which bureaucrats at the State Department can force a socially progressive worldview on partners in strategically vital regions.”

“The nondiscrimination rule would violate the rights and beliefs of faith-based partner organizations and their beneficiaries, undermine relationships with key stakeholders, and threaten U.S. security interests,” the senators wrote.

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