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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 16, 2019 - Volume 47 Issue 33
Discrimination is just fine with us, Trump administration tells federal contractors
Section One
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Discrimination is just fine with us, Trump administration tells federal contractors

Expansion of religious exemption threatens LGBT workers, among others

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The Trump administration released new rules on August 14 that will allow federal contractors to evade nondiscrimination protections for their workers, as long as the employer claims a religious motive.

Federal contractors - companies that do business with the federal government - include most of the country's largest companies.

The 46-page draft document would allow religious objections to be offered as a valid reason to discriminate against employees on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, LGBTQ status, and other characteristics.

'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 proposed rule says, granting employers wide latitude for discrimination.

'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,' the draft continues.

The new rule would not repeal existing nondiscrimination rules, but it would drastically expand exemptions to them.

The Labor Department said in an August 14 press release that the new rules 'would clarify that religious organizations may make employment decisions consistent with their sincerely held religious tenets and beliefs without fear of sanction by the federal government.'

The proposal could apply to up to 420,000 contractors, according to the notice to be published in the Federal Register.

'While only a subset of contractors and would-be contractors may wish to seek this exemption, the Supreme Court, Congress, and the President have each affirmed the importance of protecting religious liberty for those organizations who wish to exercise it,' the notice reads.

The draft rules refer to the US Supreme Court's decisions in Hobby Lobby and Masterpiece Cakeshop, which affirmed religious exemptions to federal and state laws, respectively.

It also cited the case of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, a church that successfully argued for a government grant to refurbish its playground.

While the Labor Department said that the new proposal 'reaffirms employers' obligations not to discriminate on the basis of race, sex, or other protected bases and does not exempt or excuse a contractor from complying with any other requirements,' the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) took a different view.

The NCTE said in a statement the rule could allow '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.'

Labor Department spokesperson Megan Sweeney confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the rule could protect for-profit corporations with federal contracts if they discriminate, if they make a religious claim.

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