Aug 14, 2019

Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, issued the following statement in response to the Trump administration’s proposed rule, announced today, that would misuse religious freedom to allow taxpayer-funded employment discrimination against women, LGBTQ people, religious minorities and other marginalized people:

“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.

“Today, the Trump administration puts yet another stain on religious freedom. Because today, the Department of Labor, whose job it is to prevent employment discrimination, has announced a new rule to fund it with our taxpayer dollars. 

“Specifically, today’s proposed rule would allow government contractors to use any religious litmus test they want to discriminate in employment. And now it’s not just religious nonprofits that can discriminate but also for-profit corporations that claim to have a religious purpose. 

“So, for example, 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.

“To make matters worse, the Department of Labor is also bending over backward to give federal contractors claiming a religious right to discriminate the benefit of the doubt at all turns. If they say they’re religious, they are. If they say their belief is sincerely held, it is. And if they say they’re firing someone on the basis of religion, they’ll allow it. 

“Today’s action tarnishes our country’s proud history of preventing employment discrimination with taxpayer dollars. As early as 1941, President Roosevelt issued the first antidiscrimination requirements for federal contractors. In subsequent executive orders, Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Obama have all expanded these protections, taking America down the higher path of equality and inclusion. And that matters a huge amount because nearly one-fourth of the entire U.S. workforce is employed by government contractors. 

“Unfortunately, President George W. Bush started us down this path of government-funded discrimination with his rule permitting religiously affiliated nonprofit organizations to prefer co-religionists. Today’s action takes us leaps and bounds further down this path. It would allow government contractors, including for-profit corporations, to discriminate against LGBTQ people and anyone, really, who can’t meet their religious test. 

“Today, we call on the American people to make it clear that America was founded on the principle of religious freedom – a tradition and ideal that remains central to who we are as a country. This means that the government cannot use our taxpayer dollars to force any of us to live by the tenets and teachings of someone else’s religion in order to get or keep a government-funded job.”

About the proposed rule:

  • Broadens the scope of an existing religious exemption for federal contractors to allow taxpayer-funded employment discrimination against LGBTQ people and other protected classes. Previously, religiously affiliated nonprofits were only allowed to give preference to “individuals of a particular religion when making employment decisions relevant to the work connected with its activities.” Contractors were explicitly prohibited from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and the religious exemption could not be used to undermine these protections.
  • Expands the exemption to include for-profit corporations. Previously, the religious exemption was understood to apply only to nonprofit organizations.
  • Invites federal contractors 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.
  • Could affect federal contractors that provide services such as assistance for refugee and immigrant children, emergency and transitional residential assistance for veterans, and disaster management.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.