In yet another sign that this Republican administration is more interested in Christian nationalism than religious neutrality, a newly proposed rule from the Department of Labor would allow federal contractors to discriminate against potential employees on the basis of religion.
In theory, then, a faith-based organization receiving taxpayer money to assist with recovery efforts after a natural disaster could put up a giant “No Jews Allowed” sign when finding workers. They could also immediately reject people who are LGBTQ, pregnant but not married, and atheists. A Christian organization could even reject a Christian applicant who doesn’t adhere to its anti-gay views.
The rule would also allow the contract recipients to designate whether or not they’re a religious organization. If they say they are, so be it, even if they don’t appear to be religious in any meaningful way to the outside world.
The Labor Department said that federal contractors would not be able to discriminate on the basis of race, sex, national origin, or other protected groups in accordance with the law. But under the rule, companies and groups that identify as religious “may make employment decisions consistent with their sincerely held religious tenets and beliefs without fear of sanction by the federal government,” according to a statement.
“The rule reflects part of a very dangerous tide if you care about equality and if you care about separation of church and state,” Louise Melling, deputy legal director with the ACLU, said on a call with reporters Wednesday.
Just for the sake of perspective, under President Obama, faith-based groups were allowed to receive government contracts but they couldn’t discriminate in hiring when it came to LGBTQ people. While that is still in place, the new proposed rule would allow religion to become a factor in hiring.
This isn’t a rule that would affect just a handful of people, either. According to The Atlantic‘s Emma Green, there are 420,000 potential federal contractors and about 2,000 religious groups that receive contracts each year. 4.1 million people are in those government contract jobs.
The ACLU is already threatening to respond in whatever way they need to.
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.
This is taxpayer-funded discrimination in the name of religion. Period.
— ACLU (@ACLU) August 14, 2019
Meanwhile, the conservative group Alliance Defending Freedom says this rule is necessary to protect religious rights.
… We live in a diverse society, and there’s no reason or constitutional basis to single out and marginalize certain views. For example, eliminating faith-based nonprofits means that fewer foster children will find a forever home, fewer impoverished citizens will benefit from shelter and job training, and fewer people will receive compassionate assistance…
That’s an absurd argument, though. Without this rule, faith-based organizations would still be eligible for government contracts. They’re not getting eliminated. If a Christian foster care agency that receives federal funding decides it can’t work with employees in a same-sex marriage and shuts down in protest, that’s their own decision. You don’t get to blame the government for your own bigotry.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State says the new rule is a complete distortion of religious freedom. Said president and CEO Rachel Laser:
We believe no one should be disqualified from a taxpayer-funded job because he or she is the ‘wrong’ religion, does not follow the same religious ‘tenets’ as the employer or cannot pass an employer’s religious litmus test…
… A government contractor could cite religion to refuse to hire a single mom or someone who is LGBTQ. And now any for-profit corporation that claims it’s religious can take taxpayer dollars and fire someone who is a religious minority — so fire me, for example, because I’m Jewish.
… Today’s action tarnishes our country’s proud history of preventing employment discrimination with taxpayer dollars.
The rule will undoubtedly be challenged in court if it goes into effect. But besides that, it’s just the latest sign of how this administration will bend over backwards to accommodate conservative Christians even if it means throwing everyone else under the bus.
For now, there will be 30 days of public comment, which this administration will likely ignore, before the inevitable barrage of lawsuits.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Brian for the link)