On Friday, the Department of Labor issued a directive that would allow federal contractors to discriminate based on religion.
The memo, which was sent to the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs requests the department “proceed in a manner neutral toward and tolerant of… religious beliefs” in regards to nondiscrimination laws. It claims that federal laws like the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, do not apply to faith-based entities acting on their religious beliefs.
The memo cites the SCOTUS ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which it claims “addressed the broad freedoms and anti-discrimination protections that must be afforded religion-exercising organizations and individuals under the United States Constitution and federal law.” Although SCOTUS did rule in favor of the bakery, it was a narrow ruling in regards to that specific case. Judges declined to weigh in on broader "religious liberty" claims.
In a statement from Lambda Legal, Sharon McGowan, Legal Director and Chief Strategy Officer said:
"The directives coming out of the Department of Labor today represent the latest move by the Trump - Pence administration to turn the notion of religious liberty into a weapon of discrimination.
The notion that the OFCCP needs to re-examine how it is enforcing nondiscrimination mandates against federal contractors is a “solution” in search of a problem.
In the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision cited in today’s directive, the Supreme Court had the opportunity to make clear that an individual’s religious belief that LGBT people should not be entitled to equal treatment under the law does not override the ability of the state to protect LGBT people from discrimination in the marketplace and the workplace. When the Supreme Court failed to do so, and instead focused on the alleged harm suffered by the Colorado business owner who turned away gay customers, the Court not only enabled but emboldened anti-LGBT forces to continue to undermine nondiscrimination mandates wherever they exist.
Nothing in the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision compelled the Department of Labor to issue the directives that went out today, but Lambda Legal is not surprised to see this administration seize on the decision as a way to justify its ongoing assault on the civil rights of the LGBT community."
The memo comes after Attorney General Jeff Sessions' recent formation of a "religious liberty" task force. It was formed to help implement a federal guidance released last year by the Department of Justice that says people of faith “should be reasonably accommodated in all government action, including employment, contracting and programming.”