Biden Admin. to Reverse Trump-Era Religious Liberty Protections for Contractors

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This week, the Biden administration announced a plan to reverse a Trump-era policy that supporters said protected the religious liberty of federal contractors and put them “on an equal footing” with other contractors.

At issue is a Trump Department of Labor rule that was initially proposed in 2019 but went into effect in the final days of the Trump administration. The new rule expanded religious exemptions for contractors related to non-discrimination laws by declaring that a religious organization is eligible for federal contracts and is exempt from non-discrimination laws if it is “organized for a religious purpose” and “holds itself out to the public as carrying out a religious purpose.”

Eugene Scalia, the Trump administration’s Secretary of Labor, defended the new rule last year by saying that “religious organizations should not have to fear that acceptance of a federal contract or subcontract will require them to abandon their religious character or identity.” The Family Research Council said the rule would “protect religious liberty” by requiring that federal agencies “allow faith adherents to compete for federal contracts on an equal footing with anyone else.”

Craig E. Leen, the Trump administration’s director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, said at the time the administration was “committed to protecting religious liberty, while ensuring vigorous enforcement of the anti-discrimination laws the agency administers.”

The Biden Department of Labor announced on Monday a proposal to rescind the Trump-era rule.

Religious organizations’ beliefs about sexual orientation and gender identity are at the heart of the issue. The Obama administration banned contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Biden rule would “ensure that” the “religious exemption is applied consistent with principles and case law interpreting the Title VII religious exemption,” a news release said.

The proposal “would protect against discrimination and safeguard principles of religious freedom,” said Jenny R. Yang, director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.

The Biden rule would narrow the exemption to include only “employers whose purpose and character are primarily religious,” a news release said.



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