Proposed Labor Department Rule to Protect Religious Liberty

The U.S. Department of Labor announced on Wednesday a new proposal that will give religious employers with federal contracts the right to hire based on religious beliefs.

According to a statement released by the department, “… the proposed 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 announcement of the rule comes just as congressional Democrats push legislation, such as the so-called Equality Act and the PRIDE Act, that would deny conscience rights in cases of alleged LGBTQ discrimination in private commerce as well as government transactions.

Franklin Graham posted on Facebook early Thursday: “I am grateful to President Donald J. Trump, his administration, and the U.S. Department of Labor for proposing a rule to protect the employment decisions of religious organizations, specifically those who may contract with the government. … That’s how it should be. For example, Christian organizations with the goal of spreading the Gospel shouldn’t be forced to hire individuals whose beliefs are not aligned. It just wouldn’t work. We need to pray for our leaders in Washington and thank God for those who are defending our religious freedoms in this country.”

Though LGBTQ and civil rights groups, such as the ACLU and Human Rights Campaign, were quick to attack the rule, claiming it to be discriminatory, many religious organizations praised the proposal.

“Family Research Council applauds the Department for taking steps to ensure that religious employers are free to operate according to their religious beliefs without fear of government punishment,” said Mary Beth Waddell, senior legislative assistant for Family Research Council. “This is in keeping with our nation’s history of respect for moral and religious beliefs.”

The proposal, which will be published in the Federal Register on Thursday and open to public comment for 30 days, “ensures that conscience and religious freedom are given the broadest protection permitted by law.”

“Today’s proposed rule helps to ensure the civil rights of religious employers are protected,” Acting U.S. Secretary of Labor Patrick Pizzella said. “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.”

Among other things, the rule would bring “clarity and certainty” to federal contractors, a Labor Department compliance official said.

The Labor Department statement mentioned recent Supreme Court decisions such as Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores as examples of legal precedents that address constitutional religious freedom protections, as well as Trump administration executive orders on religious liberty and the establishment of a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative.

Democratic proposals on Capitol Hill, such as the proposed Equality Act backed by LGBTQ activists, run directly counter to the newest Labor Department rule by removing religious exemptions and by seeking to invalidate provisions of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The act also seeks to redefine the term “sex” in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to mean gender identity and sexual orientation in addition to the traditional classification of male and female.