By Lisa Lambert
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Religious social service providers receiving funds from the U.S. government would no longer have to tell their clients about other, possibly secular organizations that offer similar help under changes the Trump administration proposed on Thursday.
Conservative Christians, a key bloc in President Donald Trump's Republican Party, have pushed to lift the requirement that religiously affiliated service groups must tell clients about alternative providers if they receive federal money. They also must post information on referrals and track the referrals they make.
The requirement has been a flashpoint in the national fight over abortion.
Supporters say it ensures women understand the availability of safe and legal abortions in their areas. Some Christian-affiliated pregnancy centres opposed to abortion say that supplying information about abortion providers compromises their beliefs.
The Trump administration argues that the requirement puts an undue burden on groups linked to churches and treats them unfairly, presuming that because of their religious affiliation they will provide ideologically driven care or lie to clients. It says there is no similar requirement for secular organizations.
To end the requirement, the administration is pursuing rule changes at nine government agencies that carry out policy on health, labour, education, food, housing, justice, homeland security, veterans and international aid.
With national headlines on Thursday focussed on Trump's impeachment trial, the White House dedicated the day to actions it said would protect religious freedom, capped by an afternoon event on prayer in public schools.
But unravelling the alternative provider requirement is likely to receive the most attention.
It is also sure to anger advocates for patients', women's, and civil rights.
They say that individuals should be able to receive treatment from government-funded groups aligned with their personal beliefs or that do not have a religious affiliation.
They also say people should have clear and accurate information about all the taxpayer-backed options for assistance in their area, and that the government needs to ensure that in providing money to nonprofits it is not funding Christian proselytising.
(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Jonathan Oatis)