January 2021 Church & State Magazine | AU Bulletin

Americans United criticized a new Trump administration rule issued Dec. 7 that allows all federal contractors to discriminate against employees on the basis of religion.

The rule, issued by the U.S. Department of Labor, could embolden federal contractors to cite religion to fire a woman who uses birth control or is a single parent; fire or deny health benefits to LGBTQ employees; or refuse to interview anyone who doesn’t regularly attend religious services or isn’t the “right” religion. Federal contractors include entities that provide services such as assistance for refugee and immigrant children, emergency and transitional residential assistance for veterans, and disaster management.

“It’s unconscionable, though hardly surprising, that the lame-duck Trump administration would expand the ability of federal contractors – who employ one-fifth of the American workforce – to use religious litmus tests to hire or fire employees for jobs paid for with taxpayer dollars,” said AU President and CEO Rachel Laser. “It’s especially heartless that the Trump administration would advance this policy in the midst of a global public health and economic crisis.”

Added Laser, “The constitutional right to religious freedom promises everyone the right to live their lives secure that the government will treat them equally, no matter what their belief system. The new Department of Labor rule, however, turns this core American value on its head and puts countless people’s jobs at risk because they do not share the religious views or meet the religious code of conduct of a government contractor.

“This rule is a last-gasp effort by the outgoing administration to ignore the will of the people and cement a legacy of using religious freedom as a sword to harm people, rather than a shield to protect all of us,” concluded Laser. “We urge the Biden-Harris administration to restore and protect religious freedom and right the wrongs of the Trump administration, including by directing the Department of Labor to immediately begin the process of revoking this rule.”

A week later, the administration released a series of final rules that roll back nine federal agencies’ regulations that provide protections for people who use federally funded social services. These rules significantly change the existing regulations that govern when the government funds faith-based service providers, putting people who use government services at risk by undermining critical religious freedom and civil rights protections.

“These latest Trump administration rules undermine the civil rights and religious freedom of millions of our country’s most vulnerable people who rely on social services,” said Laser. “People should never be forced to choose between obtaining taxpayer-funded services they desperately need and remaining true to their personal religious beliefs and identity.”