Dec 07, 2020

Americans United for Separation of Church and State President and CEO Rachel Laser issued the following statement in response to the Department of Labor today issuing a rule that allows all federal contractors to discriminate against employees on the basis of religion:

“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. It’s especially heartless that the Trump administration would advance this policy in the midst of a global public health and economic crisis.

“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 peoples’ jobs at risk because they do not share the religious views or meet the religious code of conduct of a government contractor. Like so many others issued by the Trump administration, this rule particularly puts at risk workers who are LGBTQ, women, religious minorities and non-religious people.

“On Nov. 3, the voters rejected this type of religion-based discrimination that has been supported by the Trump administration and the president’s Christian nationalist allies. 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. 

“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.”

About the Department of Labor rule:

  • Expands the religious exemption and even allows for-profit corporations to qualify for it. Previously, the religious exemption was understood to be narrow and apply only to religious nonprofit organizations.
  • Directs the agency to take a “broad interpretation” of the religious exemption, even though the exemption is supposed to be narrow. This could embolden federal contractors to cite religion in order 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.

Americans United has prepared an “Agenda to Restore & Protect Religious Freedom” for the Biden-Harris administration, which includes protecting federally funded employees from religious discrimination. An overview of that agenda is available here.

Americans United is a religious freedom advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, AU educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom. Learn more at www.au.org.