Wednesday Trump proposed a new rule to allow businesses to legally discriminate against potential employees within the guidelines of their hiring practices. If said business cites a religious objection, they are able to avoid complying with traditional nondiscrimination orders based upon race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation and identity, etc.
Such a rule is a clear affront to civil rights and the notion of equality in America. For simply being black, gay, an immigrant, or even a single parent, you could be adversely affected by this new rule. Conversely, the least affected by this rule, as usual, is your average white American.
The most interesting premise of the rule is that a corporation is not obligated to focus entirely on religion to qualify, the rule says, “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.” which allows for many opportunities to claim that faith or morals guide a companies purpose.
This new rule is nothing more than another effort by Trump to weaken civil rights for minorities and to satisfy his conservative Christian base. This rule only serves to grant agencies a wide window of opportunity to let companies off the hook when accused of discrimination.
The rule is riddled with ambiguity and lacks clear definition, making the possibilities for workplace discrimination limitless, given they make a religious claim. The policy, for example, could apparently allow a company that supplies machinery to the federal government to fire a person simply because they’re a black if they obtain a religious exemption.
The Labor Department said in a press release Wednesday that the rule “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 Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes a protective exemption for religious organizations. A similar exemption is included in Executive Order 11246 and OFCCP’s regulations, which govern certain employment practices of federal contractors.
Recent Supreme Court decisions – Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores – further address the protections afforded religious organizations and individuals under the Constitution and federal law. Executive Orders 13798, Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty, and 13831, Establishment of a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative, along with U.S. Department of Justice guidance, likewise instruct federal agencies to protect religious exercise and not impede it.
Though these regulations were implemented in good faith and based on statutes, executive orders, and Supreme Court decisions, the root of this kind of legislation is punitive to minority communities and their civil and constitutional rights.
The Labor Department argues the ignorant contention that the rule would save contractors and taxpayers money because businesses wouldn’t be troubled by the legal expenses of fending off discrimination cases.
As the agency put it, the rule “will reduce the risk of non-compliance to contractors and the potential costs of litigation such findings of non-compliance with OFCCP’s requirements might impose.”
The Trump administration has steadily expanded its argument that constitutional rights to religious exercise allow employers, shopkeepers, and medical professionals to ignore laws and policies that ban discrimination.
Before he was forced out of office, then–attorney general Jeff Sessions had been particularly bullish in protecting religious employers, saying in a guidance memo they may hire workers “whose beliefs and conduct are consistent with the employers’ religious precepts” and that “the federal government may not condition receipt of a federal grant or contract on the effective relinquishment of a religious organization’s hiring exemptions.”
Sessions then directed the Justice Department’s Religious Liberty Task Force this fall to find examples of religious entities being denied government funds, saying the practice “must, and will, stop.”
The Labor Department’s new draft regulation builds on decades of policy around federal contractors. After President Lyndon B. Johnson banned discrimination by executive order in 1965, President George W. Bush added a narrow religious exemption. Bush’s amendment lets religious corporations make employment decisions based on their faith — like Jewish charities hiring only fellow Jews.
Obama expanded Johnson’s underlying nondiscrimination order to also protect LGBTQ people working for federal contractors, leaving Bush’s narrow exemption intact. The new rule opens up that exemption, but it does not specify the circumstances in which it would apply — those decisions will be left up to enforcement officials at the Labor Department.
Labor Secretary Patrick Pizzella said in a statement Wednesday, “As people of faith with deeply held religious beliefs are making decisions on whether to participate in federal contracting, they deserve clear understanding of their obligations and protections under the law.”