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 a ‘religious 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