U.S. Bishops Applaud Trump Administration Proposal Allowing Anti-LGBTQ Employment Discrimination

Bishop Robert McManus, acting chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Religious Liberty

Top U.S. bishops have welcomed the Trump administration’s proposed rule that would allow federal contractors to discriminate against LGBTQ employees.

The chairs of three committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) released a statement applauding the proposed Department of Labor rule announced earlier this week, reported the National Catholic Reporter. The bishops wrote:

“Faith-based groups should have the opportunity to compete on a level playing field as they seek to partner with the federal government to provide critical social services. These proposed rules protect religious liberty, a core constitutional right, by clarifying existing religious exemptions consistent with federal law and recent Supreme Court precedent. We are grateful to the Administration for taking this step, and we look forward to filing more detailed public comments with OFCCP [Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs].”

The bishops behind the statement were Bishop Robert J. McManus of Worcester, Massachusetts, chair of the Committee for Religious Liberty; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chair of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, chair of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

The proposed federal rule would allow faith-based federal contractors to implement employment policies “consistent with their sincerely held religious tenets and beliefs without fear of sanction by the federal government.” The intention, according to Acting Secretary of Labor Patrick Pizzella, was to protect the “civil rights” of religious employers. The Department of Labor claimed that the rule would not allow contractors to discriminate based on “race, sex, or other protected bases.”

But critics of the proposed rule have argued that implementing it would leave LGBTQ employees, as well as people who are pregnant outside of marriage, open to discrimination. The Center for Transgender Equality even suggested the rule could allow for race-based discrimination. An editorial from the Los Angeles Times  described the proposed rule as a “smokescreen to conceal discrimination rooted in other sorts of bias”:

“First, it would define areligious corporation, association, educational institution, or society’ eligible for the exemption in a sweeping way that extends beyond philanthropic institutions such as soup kitchens or refugee resettlement agencies. Also eligible for the exemption would be some ‘closely held’ profit-making companies whose owners claim a religious mission. . .

“Second, the rule says that an employer can reject not only applicants who aren’t members of the same denomination, but also those who fail to demonstrate ‘acceptance of or adherence to religious tenets as understood by the employing contractor.’ That seems to suggest that employers with religious objections to same-sex marriage or wives working outside the home could refuse to hire a gay applicant or a married mother — and yet still would be eligible for a taxpayer-funded contract.”

The Department of Labor’s proposed rule announcement comes just a month and a half before the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in three legal cases (Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia;  Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda,; R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) that could determine whether federal civil rights law includes sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes.

The Trump administration has continued ramping up its efforts to undercut the rights of LGBTQ people while expanding religious institutions’ right to discriminate. Sadly, it is unsurprising that the U.S. bishops’ leadership wholeheartedly endorses this attack on LGBTQ people and, it should be noted, many other people not conforming to conservative social norms who could be at risk of discrimination. The bishops have remained firmly committed to a culture war mentality, rejecting Pope Francis’ evangelical call for Catholics to quit their “obsession” with such issues.

For example, Bishops Conley and Dewane signed onto letters earlier this year which claimed the Equality Act would be “a detriment to society as a whole” and said they were “gravely disappointed” by its passage. Transgender equality has become the latest target. Bishop McManus, who recently became acting chair of the religious liberty committee after Louisville’s Archbishop Joseph Kurtz resigned to undergo cancer treatment, remarked this summer that gender transitions were comparable to someone having a hand amputated to install a pirate hook.

Religious liberty is a worthwhile value to defend, but it is not the real issue today. Like the use of religious liberty arguments against desegregation in the 1960s, this important concept is being misused for the cause of discrimination. The bishops need to admit that the Trump administration is wrong and stop applauding a president with little regard for the many different kinds of people many of his policies imperil.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 24, 2019

13 replies
  1. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    I think a key to understanding the obsession of some RC clerics with homosexuality, and the strength with which some of them oppose any basic human rights for LGBT people can be found in Frédéric Martel’s third and fourth rules of The Closet: “The more vehemently opposed a cleric is to gays, the stronger his homophobic obsession, the more likely it is that he is insincere, and that his vehemence conceals something.” And “The more pro-gay a cleric is, the less likely he is to be gay; the more homophobic a cleric is, the more likely he is to be homosexual.”

    To those of us who have been around the block a few times, it is quite clear that these rules apply to many of those who vehemently oppose the rights of LGBT people whether they be in the clergy, or in politics, or in our classes in school, or in any other sphere.

    We can rail against the kinds of outrageous discrimination by clerics exhibited in this article. But I think the the challenges posed by fired teachers, and outspoken students, and family members, and other level headed people in society and the church, are the greatest threat to those who perpetrate such discrimination. And I believe those challenges hold the greatest power for making change. And I think it is well to keep in mind that the very intensity of the discriminatory behavior is a strong indicator of the insecurity and vulnerability of those who perpetrate it. And indeed, I think it is even appropriate to speak the truth about the roots of such discrimination.

    So it is necessary to not only challenge the arguments made by homophobic and transphobic perpetrators. It is also necessary to challenge the roots of the arguments and actions, and to unearth the fears and obsessions that have made the opposition to homosexuality and transgenderism central doctrinal tenets in the RC Church, when such opposition has nothing at all to do with the teachings or actions of Jesus. Rather, such campaigns are totally at odds with the message of Jesus.

    There is indeed something perverse about demonizing LGBT people, while spending little time and effort in addressing dangers that climate change poses to our fellow living creatures and humanity itself, and little time addressing the dangers of the rising tide of opposition to immigrants, Muslims, women, people of color, the poor, LGBT people and others by the Trump administration and his white nationalist followers. Those who hold themselves up as moral leaders need to be on the side of all those who are oppressed.

    • Gerald Butler
      Gerald Butler says:

      M. Martel’s observation is not only very telling, it underlines the irresponsible waste of time spent by clerics on their ludicrous sexual denials rather than addressing the truly pressing issues of the day! “VOX PRAETEREA NIHIL!”

    • Colette Tarallo
      Colette Tarallo says:

      I really struggle with my Catholic faith when I hear about these un-Christ-like actions taken by Church leadership. The cruelty is mind-boggling, especially—as you said—there are crimes against humanity being perpetrated against immigrants at the southern U.S. border, many (if not most) of whom are CATHOLIC, and a huge number are children. It’s incomprehensible to me.

  2. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    After reading this,I checked the calendar to make sure it wasn’t 1950. This is shameful and has nothing to do with religious freedom.

  3. Richard Rosendall
    Richard Rosendall says:

    I appreciate that New Ways posts these reports and comments late at night, so I can read them on my tablet as I lie here in the pre-dawn quiet and darkness. It is conducive to meditation.

    The bishops’ persistent culture-war stance, as you say, ignores the pope’s more compassionate urgings. On the other hand, they echo his own ignorance of gender identity science when they make comments like this: “Bishop McManus … remarked this summer that gender transitions were comparable to someone having a hand amputated to install a pirate hook.”

    Ah yes, the latest in obnoxious comments by smug know-it-alls in the Church hierarchy. Like Trump, and dutiful functionaries like Patrick Pizzella (whom I remember from my years at Labor), it doesn’t occur to them to care about the science. Four centuries after Galileo, they have the same mindset. I appreciate your keeping up your quiet voice of reason and compassion despite their indifference. The Church lives in you in a way they do not comprehend, like ancient learning preserved by copyists in medieval monastery libraries.

    We persist, without their approval, in using the brains God gave us. That is a big thing that grows out of small, quiet moments, as with Galileo’s telescopic observations of the moons of Jupiter, observations that contradicted the prevailing cosmology. Here you are, quietly saying like him, “Eppur si muove.” The difference, of course, is that the instruments of torture have been replaced by lobbying. In time, some of these bossy, privileged old men may have occasion to reflect upon their collaboration with Trump’s mischief stemming from their distorting supremacist lens on religious freedom. In the meantime, your flame remains lit.

    Dawn has come. I am off again to launch myself into the new day. Be well.

  4. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    I ask anyone to justify any moral authority the vast majority of Catholic bishop claim to have. They are just a group of late middle aged closed-minded mostly white guys who like to dress up in long gowns and fancy hats. It reminds me of the period just before the French Revolution. When poverty involves living is luxurious free housing and unlimited expenses, obedience involves ignoring Christ’s message of love for all humankind and support for a bloated conservative plutocracy, and chastity – need I say anything. Who would not enjoy such vows, unless they wanted to live a holy life?

  5. Poolgirl2
    Poolgirl2 says:

    This is more than insane! What if someone’s strongly religious beliefs include “no blacks, no women, no disabled people, no divorced people, nonpregnant, no non-Christians, no Christians”?

  6. Barbara Cotter
    Barbara Cotter says:

    This is so sad for all people who truly believe in Religious Freedom. However, we shall plod on following the words and signs of Jesus Loving One Another and praying for the Bishops.

  7. Kris
    Kris says:

    Trump, his administration, and his policies will not be around forever.

    This is but a pyrrhic victory (and a temporary one), because most Catholics in The States would not support such blatantly unchristian discrimination.

    The bishops are drawing down opprobium on themselves. This is fine…provided the cause is just. But only a rump (and a dwindling one at that) believe it morally justifiable to discriminate against another human being because of his or her natural sexuality or gender.

  8. Friends
    Friends says:

    One more time: who is Bishop Robert McManus to be wagging his finger and delivering stern moral condemnations against the rest of the world? This is the same guy who was arrested for drunken driving, and who needed to be bailed out of jail by his own mother. He was also notorious for showing up unannounced and uninvited at individual parishes in his Diocese, where he delivered fire-and-brimstone sermons to the startled congregation. I don’t condone the practice of idle gossip — but if this man is going to be casting stones at the rest of us sinful mere mortals, he had better expect to have some of those stones picked up and flung right back at him. I have had more than enough of his smug self-righteous hypocrisy.

  9. Evita Perennista
    Evita Perennista says:

    The irony here is that there was a news story not too long ago about a Protestant adoption agency that had a policy of not placing children with Jews and Catholics for the same reason. Considering that this is a predominately Protestant country by denomination and how Catholics have actually been discriminated against in the past, you can see where this kind of thinking goes. So that’s what they’re defending, promoting, and applauding.

  10. Theresa Lukasik
    Theresa Lukasik says:

    l don’t understand what the bishops don’t understand about their own catechism! It plainly says, “they must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” To me that at the very least includes basic human rights, food, shelter, health care, employment to make a living wage….


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