Many faith-based organizations do business with the federal government, which has long recognized that such entities are more effective service providers and closer to their beneficiaries than government bureaucracies. However, beginning with the George W. Bush administration, such contractors no longer had to establish wholly separate secular affiliates or alter their religious character in order to receive funding.
Since then, faith-based contracting regulations have become a political football, with the Obama administration imposing hiring restrictions that effectively denied religious organizations their right to hire like-minded employees. Then under the Trump administration, the rules were strengthened again. Those went into effect in early January 2021, just before President Joe Biden took office.
Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced it proposes to rescind the Trump-era rule and will be accepting public comments until December 9. DOL says that the rescission will mean that existing exemption policies will be the same as they were in the Bush and Obama administrations. But that statement is not accurate, as it glosses over the different rules in effect during those two administrations.
What DOL is attempting to do here is force faith-based contractors to hire LGBT employees whose beliefs and lifestyles don’t align with the biblical values espoused by those contractors. Representative Bobby Scott (D-Va.), Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, issued a statement saying the Trump-era rule “gave companies receiving taxpayer dollars the power to hire and fire employees for discriminatory reasons under the guise of religious freedom.”
Scott’s statement was challenged by the committee’s ranking member, Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), who said that the DOL’s proposed rescission is a “direct attack on every employer who dares to follow their faith.”
In December 2020, when nine federal agencies, including DOL, adopted the current rule for faith-based contractors that is subject to a possible rescission, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) explained:
“This final rule ensures equal treatment for faith-based organizations, consistent with the Constitution and other federal law. It removes requirements in prior regulations that placed unequal burdens on faith-based organizations, cast unwarranted suspicion on them, and were in tension with their religious liberty rights. This final rule also clarifies that faith-based organizations do not lose various legal protections because they participate in federal programs and activities, such as the rights to accommodations and conscience protections under the First Amendment, Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and other federal laws.”
Focus on the Family President Jim Daly criticized the current effort to revoke the religious hiring guarantees of the current contracting rules.
“It’s disappointing to see the rescission of this common-sense rule allowing faith-based contractors to hire like-minded employees,” Daly told The Daily Citizen. “Religious organizations should be permitted to hire who they want, especially given the distinctives of the work they’re being contracted to do and the values that bind faith-based workers together.”
Anyone wanting to offer a comment prior to December 9 to the DOL about its proposal to rescind the current rules regarding faith-based contracting can do so here.
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