In 2014, President Obama prohibited federal contractors from discriminatory hiring practices on the grounds of “real or perceived sexual orientation.”
Then an evangelical college president teamed up with Obama’s former faith-based outreach director and other religious nonprofit organizations asking for exemptions in accordance with their religious beliefs.
The Obama administration rejected the exemption request. Further, Gordon College encountered backlash from local government partners. The college’s accreditation was later threatened, and its federal support was only limited to one member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
The College Fix now reports that Department of Labor has proposed a rule that would grant the exemption that religious colleges asked for in Obama’s second term.
It would delineate and broaden the religious exemptions involving federal contractors by expanding the definition of “religious organization” from places of worship to cover organizations such as schools and universities.
This new definition would enable for-profit businesses that either have a “self-identified religious purpose” or have owners with a “sincere engagement” in religious activity to discriminate in their hiring process on the grounds of religion and religious rules.
Religious colleges and their allies praised this new policy change because the previous policy was incongruent and unjustly forced religious organizations to make decisions that go against their organization’s mission.
In a proposed rule document, which was posted in mid-August, the Department of Labor says the change would update federal policy in accordance with recent Supreme Court decisions on religious liberty, which include Hobby Lobby and Masterpiece Cakeshop.
“Although these decisions are not specific to the federal government’s regulation of contractors, they have reminded the federal government of its duty to protect religious exercise—and not to impede it,” the department stated.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization that frequently files religious-liberty lawsuits, defended Gordon College in this case.
Their senior counsel Greg Baylor stated in a press release covering the recent regulatory comments, “All Americans have the freedom to operate according to their religious beliefs, and those freedoms don’t disappear when a university, charity, or international nongovernmental organization enters into a contract with the federal government,”
The Department of Labor’s proposal correctly recognizes that “religious organizations maintain their character and effectiveness by drawing their workforces from among those who share their religious beliefs and codes of conduct,” Baylor continued.
Baylor concluded that the Trump administration should more thoroughly reverse its predecessor’s “unwarranted insertion of sexual orientation and gender identity” into federal contracting rules, which are often “used to punish disagreement or marginalize people of faith.”
For those who believe in first principles like free speech and freedom of association, this is positive news given how universities have often seen religious groups become victims of politically correct persecution.
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