‘Taxpayer-Funded Discrimination’ Accusations Lofted at New Labor Dept. Proposal
“This rule seeks to undermine our civil rights protections and encourages discrimination in the workplace — and we will work to stop it.”
The Department of Labor proposed a rule on Wednesday to allow federal contractors to cite religious exemptions if accused of discriminatory hiring practices.
The agency said the change would help companies “make employment decisions consistent with their sincerely held religious tenets and beliefs without fear of sanction by the federal government.”
“Today’s proposed rule helps to ensure the civil rights of religious employers are protected,” said acting Labor Secretary Patrick Pizzella in a statement. “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.”
Civil rights groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), immediately denounced the proposal as an attempt to weaponize religious freedom and legitimize discriminatory hiring practices.
“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,” tweeted the ACLU. “This is taxpayer-funded discrimination in the name of religion. Period.”
“FACT: Nearly one-quarter of employees in the United States work for an employer that has a contract with the federal government,” the ACLU continued. “This rule seeks to undermine our civil rights protections and encourages discrimination in the workplace — and we will work to stop it.”
The policy would apparently allow any company that contracts with the federal government to fire an employee for their sexual orientation, ethnicity, or any characteristic they deem to be in conflict with their religious views.
Vanita Gupta, former head of the DOJ’s civil rights division and current head of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, condemned the proposal in a tweet: “Unconscionable. This will not stand.”
Despite the Labor Department asserting that its directive, “reaffirms employers’ obligations not to discriminate on the basis of race, sex, or other protected bases and does not exempt or excuse a contractor from complying with any other requirements,” advocacy groups pointed to the Trump administration’s earlier uses of “religious freedom” in a manner that hurt the interests of LGBTQ people.
Shortly after Trump entered the White House, the Justice Department overturned an Obama-era position that included sexual orientation and gender identity protections in a federal ban on sex discrimination, drawing widespread criticism from advocacy groups. The Supreme Court will hear three cases in October that determine whether the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Similarly, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) proposed a rule change in May that would allow federally funded shelters to reject trans homeless people seeking shelter based on religious views.