WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Federal Register published a new rule issued by the Trump Department of Labor on Thursday clarifying that contractors retain the freedom to make hiring and firing decisions consistent with their religious beliefs.
This rule would lend "clarity and certainty" to "the scope and application of religious exemption" granted to religious organizations that contract with the federal government, according to a news release issued by the Department of Labor.
According to the news release, the rule seeks to ensure that "religious organizations may make employment decisions consistent with their sincerely held religious tenets and beliefs without fear of sanction by the federal government."
The Labor Department proposal also reaffirms "employers' obligations not to discriminate."
"Today's proposed rule helps to ensure the civil rights of religious employers are protected," Acting Secretary of Labor Patrick Pizzella said. "As people of faith with deeply held religious beliefs are making decisions on whether to participate in federal contracting, they deserve clear understanding of their obligations and protections under the law."
In 2014, former President Barack Obama issued Executive Order 13672, which added "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the criteria against which employers contracting with the federal government could not "discriminate." If adopted, the new rule would reverse Obama's executive order and disassemble an important piece of his legacy.
The rule would also help clarify Executive Order 11246, section 204(c), signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965, which established requirements for non-discriminatory practices in hiring and employment on the part of U.S. government contractors.
#BREAKING: The Department of Labor proposed new regulations this morning clarifying #ReligiousFreedom protections for federal contractors. This is an excellent development for several reasons (THREAD): https://t.co/X9ubwJc9xQ #OFCCP 1/— Luke Goodrich (@LukeWGoodrich) August 14, 2019
Becket Fund for Religious Liberty Vice President and Senior Counsel Luke Goodrich applauds the proposal.
In a series of tweets, Goodrich said: "[T]he old regime threatened religious groups that aid the most vulnerable members of society — like victims of human trafficking, the homeless, those struggling with addiction, and those in need of health care."
He added, "In many cases, religious groups were the ONLY organizations partnering with the federal government to serve these vulnerable populations."
The religious liberty lawyer tweeted that the regulations still "recognize the vital role religious groups play in federal contracting. They STILL prohibit employment discrimination based on all of the same grounds. They STILL require federal contractors to make their services available to ALL without discrimination."
The regs simply follow the text of Title VII by clarifying that hiring "individuals of a particular religion" means religious groups can hire individuals who adhere to the group's observances and practices. ... This allows religious organizations to continue serving the needy without compromising their sincere religious beliefs — which is a win for religious freedom.
In speaking with Church Militant, Stephanie Keenan, communications associate at the Becket Fund, underscored Goodrich's tweets.
Keenan said, "The proposed rule protects the right of religious groups to hire employees who agree with their core religious beliefs and practices, which is essential to carrying out their religious mission."
"Religious groups are often the only organizations to partner with the government to serve many vulnerable populations (victims of human trafficking, the homeless, those struggling with addiction and those in need of health care, etc.), Keenan explained.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has represented the Green family and its family business, Hobby Lobby, since 2012.
In 2013, Becket Fund lawyers won Hobby Lobby's case before the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. In this case, the plaintiffs challenged the federal regulation that forces family business owners to choose between their sincerely held beliefs and a government mandate.
There are many critics of the Labor Department's proposal.
BREAKING: The Department of Labor just proposed a rule that aims to let government contractors fire workers who are LGBTQ, or who are pregnant and unmarried, based on the employers' religious views.— ACLU (@ACLU) August 14, 2019
This is taxpayer-funded discrimination in the name of religion. Period.
For example, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has called it "taxpayer-funded discrimination in the name of religion."
"The Department of Labor just proposed a rule that aims to let government contractors fire workers who are LGBTQ, or who are pregnant and unmarried, based on the employers' religious views," the ACLU tweeted. "This rule seeks to undermine our civil rights protections and encourages discrimination in the workplace — and we will work to stop it."
But many faith groups argue that the religious protection this proposed rule would clarify isn't about discriminating against anyone. They say it would allow Americans to operate with religious integrity and continue to work with the government. They see it as a score for the First Amendment.
The Department of Labor invites public feedback on the proposal and will consider comments in its finalized rule.
"The submission of comments is an opportunity to express support for the proposed rule," Keenan said. "The agency does consider those comments when it decides whether to 'issue' the proposed rule as a final one."
Members of the public can submit comments online until Sept. 16.