Labor Department Seeks To Revoke Trump-Era Expansion Of Religious Exemptions

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The Department of Labor announced Monday it will seek to revoke a Trump administration rule that allows for broader religious exemptions to anti-discrimination measures governing federal contractors.

As reported by NBC News, the previous rule, which took effect in January, “broadened the exemption to include employers who ‘hold themselves out to the public as carrying out a religious purpose.’ The exemption previously applied to a more narrowly defined set of religious groups.”

The Department of Labor explained its proposal, stating, “The U.S. Department of Labor has announced a proposal to rescind the final rule ‘Implementing Legal Requirements Regarding the Equal Opportunity Clause’s Religious Exemption.’…Rescinding this rule would have the effect of returning department policy and practice to those that were operative during the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.”

Executive Order 11246 prohibits federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating in employment decisions on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or national origin. The order contains a religious exemption for certain religious corporations, associations, educational institutions and societies with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion,” the department explained.

“The final rule that took effect on Jan. 8, 2021 departed from OFCCP’s long-standing policy and practice of applying Title VII principles and case law to interpret the exemption,” the department noted. 

It added that the proposal by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), the department’s area which enforces the executive order, “would preserve [Executive Order 11246’s]’s religious exemption which would still be available to qualifying contractors.”

Jenny R. Yang, the OFCCP Director, said, “The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs’ proposed rescission would protect against discrimination and safeguard principles of religious freedom. With this proposal, OFCCP would simply return to our policy and practice of considering the facts of each case and applying Title VII principles and case law and other applicable law.”

“We are proposing a rescission of the religious exemption rule to protect workers from discrimination and safeguard principles of religious freedom,” Yang said, per NBC News.

The OFFCP found the Trump-era move to be “unnecessary and problematic,” Yang said.

“The proposed rescission would also promote economy and efficiency in federal procurement by preventing the exclusion of qualified and talented employees on the basis of protected characteristics,” Yang said. “This ensures that taxpayer funds are not used to discriminate.”

The Federal Register published the proposal on Tuesday and the department will allow comments to be sent in by or before December 9.

It stated, “OFCCP proposes to rescind the regulations established in the 2020 rule in their entirety. OFCCP believes that the 2020 rule creates a lack of clarity regarding the scope and application of the exemption because, as explained in more detail below, it misstates the law in key respects. In addition, as a threshold matter, OFCCP has reevaluated the need for the rule.”

As reported by Federal Computer Week, a federal business outlet, politicians on both sides of the aisle have responded to the move.

The outlet noted: 

Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) of the House Education and Labor Committee said in a statement that 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” and that he applauded the OFCCP’s action to change the rule.

Committee ranking member Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) said in a statement that the Biden administration’s action was a “direct attack on every employer who dares to follow their faith.”

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