A new rule proposed by President Donald Trump’s administration would allow businesses that receive federal contracts to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals according to employers’ religious beliefs, critics say.
According to the Department of Labor, the role of the proposal, which was announced Wednesday, is to “clarify the scope and application of the religious exemption.”
It’s “intended to clarify the long-standing civil rights protections afforded to religious organizations that contract with the federal government,” one official said, according to Bloomberg Law. “The proposal would ensure the “religious protections are given the same federal recognition as all other civil rights.”
But critics say that the rule would essentially let federal contractors use religious objection excuses as a defense for discriminating against workers on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity and other characteristics, such as sex, race, color, ethnicity or national origin.
The 46-page proposal “would allow federal contractors to apply for broad exemptions to civil rights law after engaging in discriminatory behavior,” The National Center for Transgender Equality, or NCTE, said in a statement.
That behavior includes “firing or refusing to hire someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It could also lead to federal contractors refusing to hire women or unmarried workers who are pregnant or parents, or even discrimination on the basis of race,” the statement continued.
With the new rule, businesses that claim a “religious purpose” can benefit from the protection. However, the proposal expands on the meaning of a religious corporation: “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.”
The proposal wants to make clear that “religious exemption covers not just churches but employers that are organized for a religious purpose, hold themselves out to the public as carrying out a religious purpose, and engage in exercise of religion consistent with, and in furtherance of, a religious purpose.”
The proposed rule frustrates human rights advocates, who see it as the latest move by Trump to undermine the rights of LGBTQ individuals in the name of religious freedom.
“Once again, the Trump administration is shamefully working to license taxpayer-funded discrimination in the name of religion. Nearly one-quarter of the employees in the U.S. work for an employer that has a contract with the federal government,” Ian Thompson, senior legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement. “We will work to stop this rule that seeks to undermine our civil rights protections and encourages discrimination in the workplace.”
Mara Keisling, NCTE’s founder executive director echoed that message. “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,” she said.
“Whether it’s our right to healthcare, our right to housing, or our right to equal employment, we are committed to fighting every action this administration takes against us,” added Keisling.
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