Rep. Comer accuses Sec. Becerra of 'attacking' religious liberty, vows action after internal HHS memo revealed

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FIRST ON FOX: A House Republican is accusing Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Sec. Xavier Becerra of continuing his pattern of attacking Americans’ First Amendment freedoms after an internal memo leaked this week revealed that the agency is taking steps to undo a Trump-era action aimed at better protecting religious liberty.

A draft memo obtained by Fox News on Wednesday shows HHS is considering revoking authority the former Trump administration delegated to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to prevent violations of religious liberty. 

In October 2017, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions provided executive agencies with a long list of guidelines on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), free exercise claims, contraception in insurance plans and other issues in response to President Trump’s executive order demanding action on the issue. As a result, HHS granted OCR the authority in December 2017 to, among other things, conduct RFRA compliance reviews and “initiate such other actions as may be necessary to facilitate and ensure compliance with RFRA.” 

Xavier Becerra speaks during his confirmation hearing to be Secretary of Health and Human Services before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Leigh Vogel/Pool via AP)
((Leigh Vogel/Pool via AP))

The internal memo shared with Fox News argues that the former administration may have over-expanded OCR’s authority and signals intent to repeal Trump-era initiatives.

House Committee on Oversight and Reform Ranking Member James Comer. R-Ky., told Fox News in an exclusive statement said it’s “no surprise” that HHS is planning to roll back religious liberty protections.

“Secretary Becerra has a pattern of attacking Americans’ religious liberty and it should come as no surprise he is seeking to prevent HHS’ Office of Civil Rights from defending this core American value.” 

Comer also vowed to have Republican members of his committee watch for “any abuse” by the administration to limit the First Amendment’s freedom of religious expression protections.

“Oversight Committee Republicans will keep a watchful eye on any abuse by the Biden Administration to dismantle religious liberty protections afforded to Americans,” continued Comer. 

UNITED STATES – AUGUST 24: Ranking member Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., questions Postmaster General Louis DeJoy during the House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing titled Protecting the Timely Delivery of Mail, Medicine, and Mail-in Ballots, in Rayburn House Office Building on Monday, August 24, 2020. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images/Pool)
(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images/Poo)

Sen. James Lankford, R-Ky., also slammed the Biden administration this week in light of the memo.

“The memo is correct, I am an outspoken advocate for religious liberty, and I have a very ‘negative reaction’ to this Administration ignoring the First Amendment and failing to protect Americans of conscience,” Lankford said in a statement provided to Fox News on Wednesday. 

A source familiar told Fox News that HHS’ internal memo is expected to be rolled out this week. HHS did not respond to Fox News’ request for comment on the draft of the internal memo.

Fox News’ Sam Dorman contributed to this report.

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