Labor Department rule lets contractors shirk anti-discrimination policies with religious exemptions

The move will make it easier for companies that are organized around faith-based activities to evade certain civil rights laws and policies when making hiring decisions.

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The Department of Labor this week finalized a rule change that allows federal contractors to claim a religious exemption to discriminate against certain groups when making hiring decisions.

The move will make it easier for companies that are organized around faith-based activities to hire members of their own religious group without falling afoul of civil rights laws, and allow such firms to exclude other groups, in particular gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people from employment.

The rule cites a 2018 Supreme Court decision that ruled in favor of a Christian baker in Colorado who refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple. It also uses the court's 2014 decision in the Hobby Lobby case that stated certain non-public for-profit companies could claim religious exemptions from laws in some cases.

The final rule, issued Dec. 9 by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs at the Labor Department, states companies can seek an exemption based on its religious beliefs. To obtain an exemption an organization must "be organized for a religious purpose; hold itself out to the public as carrying out a religious purpose [or] engage in activity consistent with, and in furtherance of, that religious purpose."

The rule is set to take effect on Jan. 8, 2021.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) today called the rule change an attempt by President Donald Trump to "attack protections" meant to prohibit discrimination against minorities, women and the LGBTQ community.

"This discriminatory Trump regulation is an act of cruelty that cynically twists bedrock American civil rights laws to undermine the rights, dignity and well-being of the very people they are designed to protect," she said in a Dec. 11 statement.