- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Department of Labor released a proposal Wednesday that would protect “religion-exercising organizations” holding federal contracts if they are accused of having a hiring bias.

The Labor Department said in a statement the rule change would allow organizations to “make employment decisions consistent with their sincerely held religious tenets and beliefs without fear of sanction by the federal government.”

“Today’s proposed rule helps to ensure the civil rights of religious employers are protected,” acting Labor Secretary 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.”

The Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs said the law would apply to businesses where the “closely held” beliefs of the owner would be protected under the new rule.

However, the Labor Department assured the law “reaffirms employers’ obligations not to discriminate on the basis of race, sex, or other protected bases and does not exempt or excuse a contractor from complying with any other requirements.”

Advocacy groups decried the new rule change, with the American Civil Liberties Union saying the rule would “undermine” the U.S. “civil rights protections.”

“The Department of Labor just proposed a rule that aims to let government contractors fire workers who are LGBTQ, or who are pregnant and unmarried, based on the employers’ religious views. This is taxpayer-funded discrimination in the name of religion. Period,” the ACLU tweeted.

“Nearly one-quarter of employees in the United States work for an employer that has a contract with the federal government. This rule seeks to undermine our civil rights protections and encourages discrimination in the workplace — and we will work to stop it,” the group said.

The proposal will be published by the Federal Register Thursday and will be put up for public input until Sept. 16.

• Bailey Vogt can be reached at bvogt@washingtontimes.com.

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