Proposed Federal Rule Would Allow Firings Based on Sexuality and Pregnancy

A gay pride rainbow flag flies along with the U.S. flag in front of the Asbury United Methodist Church in Prairie Village, Kan., on April 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

(CN) – Under a federal rule proposed by the Trump administration on Wednesday, workers who are LGBTQ or who are pregnant and unmarried could be legally fired by government contractors based on the employers’ religious views.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, workplace discrimination based on race, religion, sex or national origin is unlawful. A year later, the law was extended to employees of federal government contractors.

But Congress included an accommodation in the law for employers who wanted their devout employees to perform the business’ religious activities.

The definition of religion was expanded by Congress in 1972 to include religious observance, belief and practice. Employers were also allowed to say they couldn’t accommodate an employee’s religious practices if it brought “undue hardship” on their business.

The U.S Department of Labor said in a 46-page proposal for the new rule, posted Wednesday in the Federal Register, that their rule is consistent with provisions of Title VII protections.

“Because the exemption administered by OFCCP springs directly from the Title VII exemption, it should be given a parallel interpretation, consistent with the Supreme Court’s repeated counsel that the decision to borrow statutory text in a new statute is a ‘strong indication that the two statutes should be interpreted pari passu,’” the proposal said.

The agency cited recent U.S Supreme Court decisions – including a ruling for a Colorado baker who claimed he was unfairly targeted for declining business from gay customers – as reasons to uphold protections for religious businesses.

“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 proposal says.

The agency said the new rule provides “clarity” that religious exemption from Title VII does not include churches but rather businesses organized for religious purposes.

“It is also intended to make clear that religious employers can condition employment on acceptance of or adherence to religious tenets without sanction by the federal government, provided that they do not discriminate based on other protected bases,” the proposal states.

Ian Thompson, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement Wednesday that the proposed rule encourages workplace discrimination.

“Once again, the Trump administration is shamefully working to license taxpayer-funded discrimination in the name of religion,” Thompson said in the statement. “Nearly one-quarter of the employees in the U.S. work for an employer that has a contract with the federal government.”

Public comments on the proposed rule are open until Sept. 14, 2019.

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