Trump’s latest rule proposal is stirring up controversy after his administration formally proposed a new rule on Wednesday that would let federal contractors cite religion as a valid reason to discriminate against employees who are LGBTQ as well as on the basis of race, ethnicity, and other characteristics.
This would allow companies to work around nondiscrimination executive orders including the 2014 order that banned LGBTQ discrimination.
“Although these decisions are not specific to the federal government’s regulation of contractors, they have reminded the federal government of its duty to protect religious exercise — and not to impede it,” the proposal says.
But advocacy organizations have voiced their concern that this new rule will encourage discrimination against LGBTQ employees.
Luca Maurer, program director for The Center for LGBT Education, Outreach & Services at Ithaca College, fought for the passage of GENDA – a historic transgender anti-discrimination law in New York – and now fears this ruling would be a step backward.
“It clears the way for taxpayer dollars to be managed in ways that directly discriminate against LGBTQ people,” he told HipLatina. “It’s also another in a series of recent proposals that falsely positions LGBTQ people against people of faith when in fact LGBTQ people are people of faith too. It spins a false narrative that recognizing the inherent dignity and worth of LGBTQ people is not compatible with religion when in reality many individuals and many faith traditions are able to hold these two dimensions of experience on equal footing and with respect and equity.”
The 46-page proposal could apply to up to 420,000 contractors, according to the draft to be published in the Federal Register, Buzzfeed reports.
FACT: Nearly one-quarter of employees in the United States work for an employer that has a contract with the federal government.
This rule seeks to undermine our civil rights protections and encourages discrimination in the workplace — and we will work to stop it.
— ACLU (@ACLU) August 14, 2019
The Trump administration makes it clear that a corporation doesn’t need to be entirely devoted to religion, saying, “The contractor must be organized for a religious purpose, meaning that it was conceived with a self-identified religious purpose. This need not be the contractor’s only purpose.” This means they need only to declare themselves religious to justify their stance.
“A religious purpose can be shown by articles of incorporation or other founding documents, but that is not the only type of evidence that can be used,” states the rule.
A religious exemption written in 1965 was designed to ensure that churches/religious organizations didn’t have to hire people outside their faith and it wouldn’t conflict with the ban on private employment discrimination. This ruling would broaden that exemption, leaving more opportunities for discrimination to increase, Maurer states.
“This is the latest in a series of moves by this administration to weaponize faith and to purposefully deny LGBTQ Americans the equal protection and demonstrably attempt to provide avenues to increase discrimination and bias and allow LGBTQ Americans to be treated as second class citizens. And although workplace LGBTQ bias complaints have tripled during these last few years, this rule would make it easier to discriminate.”
The National Center for Transgender Equality said in a statement the rule could even lead federal contractors to reject hiring women, unmarried workers who are pregnant or have kids and could even be used on the basis of race.
“Religious freedom must be a shield to protect the marginalized, not a sword to attack them. There are few values more sacred to the equality of all in this nation than the belief that nobody should be judged by an employer because of who they are or who they love, yet this administration continually seeks to undermine that value. Whether it’s our right to health care, our right to housing, or our right to equal employment, we are committed to fighting every action this administration takes against us,” Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality said in a statement.
Employees could still take their employer to court but no federal law exists that explicitly protects LGBTQ workers and this new rule would mean the Labor Department wouldn’t have to cancel contracts with businesses that claim religion as a reason for their bias.
“It justifies treating LGBTQ people unfairly, which history has shown causes reverberations throughout all sectors of our society. Individuals and groups become emboldened and hate crimes go up when anti-LGBTQ rhetoric is commonplace. To have it coming from the government itself is chilling,” Maurer said. “Rather than uphold the civil rights of employees, which would benefit not only LGBTQ individuals and their families, but also employers, the marketplace, and the nation, this proposal seeks to further ensconce bias and discrimination against a group of people simply because of who they are, and to finance it with taxpayer dollars.”
The proposed rule is undergoing a 30-day public comment period.