Donald Trump began his time in the White House by dismantling as many Obama-era regulations and rules as he could—ones that protected workers, or the environment, or consumers. Now he’s ending his time in the White House by rushing to lock in as many avenues for discrimination and pollution as possible. The Labor Department has just finalized a rule giving federal contractors more leeway to hire and fire based on religious reasons.
A senior Labor Department official “emphasized that the rule could not be used as a pretext for religious organizations to discriminate against people on the basis of protected categories like gender or race,” The New York Times reports. But there are a lot of categories that are ripe for discrimination—LGBTQ workers are very high on the list, but so are unmarried pregnant women, the Times notes. And organizations can expand the roles in which they can hire exclusively from within their faith.
“The final rule would significantly expand eligibility for federal contractors to claim a religious exemption from non-discrimination rules,” Public Citizen’s Matt Kent told Government Executive. “It’s an invitation for any contractor that’s loosely affiliated with a religious purpose to discriminate against LGBTQ employees. Yet another major, ideologically driven last-minute rule change from the Trump administration.”
“It is hard to overstate the harm that the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs is visiting on LGBTQ people, women, religious minorities, and others with the sledgehammer it is taking to federal nondiscrimination protections,” Lambda Legal's Jennifer Pizer said in a statement. “For nearly 80 years, it has been a core American principle that seeking and receiving federal tax dollars to do work for the American people means promising not to discriminate against one’s own workers with those funds. This new rule uses religion to create an essentially limitless exemption allowing taxpayer-funded contractors to impose their religious beliefs on their employees without regard to the resulting harms, such as unfair job terms, invasive proselytizing and other harassment that make job settings unbearable for workers targeted on religious grounds.”
She continued: “The Department of Labor has crafted a grotesquely overbroad exemption that will be used by many federal contractors as a totally improper, catch-all defense to discrimination complaints. The rule allows contractors, including large for-profit companies, to use the special treatment designed for religious organizations if they merely ‘affirm  a religious purpose in response to inquiries from a member of the public or a government entity.’ This adds yet another gaping hole to the Swiss cheese the Trump administration has been systematically making of our country’s essential civil rights protections.”
The new rule goes into effect on Jan. 8, 12 days before President-elect Joe Biden takes office. He would likely have to go through a long process to make a new rule to replace it.