The Trump administration is preparing to circumvent an Obama-era rule that disallowed federal contractors to discriminate against LGBT employees, expanding on the legal guidance issued in August regarding “religious exemptions” and bolstering that guidance with greater legal weight.
> The Trump administration is currently planning to create a formal religious-liberty regulation for businesses with federal contracts, which would create a loophole in an Obama administration policy protecting LGBT workers, according to several people familiar with the Labor Department’s plans who spoke to BuzzFeed News. Unlike the August directive, a regulation would carry more legal force and is tremendously difficult to undo.
> It is unclear if the regulation will limit its scope to strictly religious corporations — for instance, a Jewish charity with a federal contract. The directive refers to the Supreme Court’s decisions in Hobby Lobby and Masterpiece Cakeshop, which concerned closely held, for-profit businesses with religious owners, not religious corporations.
A Labor Department spokesperson told Buzzfeed that the draft text is expected to be released in December but didn’t respond to specific questions regarding the proposal.
> LGBT advocates are horrified that such a policy, which builds on the same logic as August’s directive, could cement legalized discrimination.
> “We just should not be going down the path of permitting discrimination with government funds, and there’s no reason to open up this can of worms,” Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, told BuzzFeed News.
> Courts generally give more deference to the federal government’s regulations, since they go through a rulemaking process that can take a year or more. And reversing those rules can require an equally long procedure, and possible lawsuits, all but ensuring that the next administration would be stuck with the same policy.
Craig Leen, acting director of the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), indicated to Warbelow that the new rule will be based on the Trump administration’s August directive.
> Warbelow said she got the impression the regulation may not just bolster anti-LGBT discrimination — a goal embraced by the evangelical right — but also allow religious contractors to discriminate against people of other faiths and women who fail to meet gender norms.
> “No one should be afraid they could be fired at any moment if their employer gets clearance from OFCCP to do so,” Warbelow said.