The Trump administration proposed a rule change that will make it easier for federal contractors to discriminate against LGBTQ employees.
The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs at the Department of Labor will officially publish the proposal later today that would allow “religion-exercising organizations” with federal contracts to discriminate if they claim that they “make employment decisions consistent with their sincerely held religious tenets and beliefs without fear of sanction by the federal government.”
Until now, the Obama-era executive order barring discrimination has been being enforced with regular monitoring.
The executive order that bans federal contractors from discriminating along the lines of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other categories currently has an exemption for “religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society.” The Trump administration wants to expand that to “religion-exercising organizations,” which includes non-religious organizations whose owners are claim they are religious.
The proposal for the rule change cites the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, which was about a private business not affiliated with any religious organization that refused to sell a cake to a gay couple several years ago.
“Today’s proposed rule helps to ensure the civil rights of religious employers are protected,” said acting Labor Secretary Patrick Pizzella. “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.”
While Pizzella used religious freedom to defend the proposal, the proposal would only expand the religious exemption for federal anti-discrimination law. All other areas of law would remain unaffected by the rule change, perhaps because the current administration doesn’t see anti-discrimination law as particularly valuable.
Liberal organizations denounced the proposed rule change.
“This is taxpayer-funded discrimination in the name of religion. Period,” said the ACLU on Twitter.
The ACLU also said that around one-quarter of workers in America work for an organization that has a federal contract.
“The Trump-Pence administration is tripping over itself to greenlight discrimination in the name of religion,” said Jennifer Pizer in a statement. “Given the conservative religious affiliations of many large institutional employers that seek federal contracts, we know the most vulnerable workers will be LGBTQ people, as well as Muslims, Jews and other religious minorities.”
“For more than half a century, the federal purse has been a transformative driver of equal workplace opportunity in this country. And once again, appallingly, this administration is betraying our nation’s core commitment to liberty and justice for all – in service of an extreme, discriminatory religious agenda.”
The White House responded to criticism with a statement that “the President’s promise and commitment to the LGBTQ community” will not be undermined by the rule change.
“The proposed rule will continue to responsibly protect religious freedom and members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination,” the statement said.
The proposal will remain open for public comment until September 16.