Trump Labor Dept. to OK hiring discrimination against gays
Trump's new labor department rules would allow companies not to hire or to fire LGBTQ people based on the religious belief of the employer. | Ron Harris/AP

WASHINGTON—Disregarding popular opposition, especially from civil libertarians and the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender community, the GOP Trump-run Labor Department appears ready to OK discrimination in hiring – based on religion, gender orientation or both – by enterprises that receive federal contracts. That would fulfill a goal of the anti-worker religious right, progressive analysts note.

And since those enterprises can range all the way from Boeing, Ford, and Amazon down to a small religiously-run daycare program in South Carolina – previously sanctioned for refusing to hire non-“Christians” – the DOL rule could have a wide impact.

The Trump government’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) proposed the rule earlier this year and set a comment deadline of September 16. More than 31,000 comments flowed in. A sample of the most-recent showed them running about four to one against the Trump edict.

That edict widens a prior “religious exemption” for hiring practices, despite the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s ban on discrimination in hiring.

The ACLU, LGBTQ groups and thousands of individuals pointed out that Trump would let businesses discriminate against pregnant single mothers, gays, and people whose religion differs from that of the business owners. Letter-writers called Trump’s rule inhuman, unconstitutional, un-American or combinations of those descriptions.

OFCCP justified its stand by citing three recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that upheld discriminatory practices. At least two of them, Hobby Lobby and Masterpiece Cakeshop, were by 5-4 votes with the GOP-named majority favoring the discrimination.

“These recent Supreme Court decisions have addressed the freedoms and anti-discrimination protections that must be afforded religion-exercising organizations and individuals under the U.S. Constitution and federal law,” OFCCP wrote.

“RELIGION IS NOT A LICENSE TO DISCRIMINATE” in the workplace, the ACLU retorted. “Freedom of religion is one of our nation’s fundamental values. But religious freedom doesn’t give us the right to harm others.”

The Trump DOL rule “would turn religious liberty into a license to discriminate with taxpayer dollars. Under the rule, a business or organization contracting with the federal government – therefore receiving taxpayer money – could use religion to justify discriminating against employees.”

Victims of such discrimination would include “LGBTQ people, those who are pregnant and unmarried, and any other group or individual deemed ‘unfit’ based on the employer’s religious beliefs. That means a prospective employee could miss out on a job and employers could pick and choose which employment benefits to offer – and who gets them – based on their religious beliefs.”

“Longstanding federal civil rights law prohibits discrimination in the workplace. Current nondiscrimination protections are about ensuring that every person can earn a living, provide for their families, and safely go about their daily lives without fear of repercussion for who they are…If we believe in equality – if we believe discrimination has no place in this country – then we must raise our voices to reject this proposed rule.”

Even OFCCP admitted it would give religious employers wide leeway in hiring – as long as they didn’t use religion to discriminate on the basis of race or sex.

The rule “is intended to make clear religious employers can condition employment on acceptance of or adherence to religious tenets without sanction by the federal government, provided they do not discriminate based on other protected bases,” OFCCP said.

“In addition, consistent with the administration policy to enforce federal law’s robust protections for religious freedom, the proposed rule…should be construed to provide the broadest protection of religious exercise permitted by the Constitution and other laws.”

That left a lot of commenters very unhappy.

“Are you taking us back to the dark ages?” asked Ivan Weissman of Dallas. “You have got to be kidding, and you call yourself religious? I am outraged and so are a lot of other people!”

“LGBTQ+ rights are HUMAN rights,” wrote Annie Campbell of Opelika, Ala. “The idea that a person could be fired or refused a job based on something as inconsequential as their sexual preference or gender identity is insane in 2019. Get with the times, be on the right side of history. When we look back, do we smile upon those who oppressed others? No. How do you want to be remembered?”

“I have friends that are LGBTQ,” said Scarlett Dvorak of the Chicago suburb of Tinley Park, Ill. “People who are LGBTQ should be equal because they are humans, too, and deserve basic human rights. It shouldn’t matter your gender, race, or sexuality. Everyone should be equal.”

“I have a gay brother and he’s one of the hardest working people I’ve ever known,” wrote Diane Ferguson of Fayetteville, Ark. “He has encountered ignorance, which leads to fear, which leads to negative thoughts and actions. What is the difference between ignorance and apathy? You don’t know and you don’t care. I do know a little & I care a lot. The actions you choose now will affect the quality of life for your family members in the future.”

“Discrimination is not human,” James Elliott of Graham, Texas, stated. “We as people deserve a place in this world. Those who discriminate in a workplace are unprofessional and childish. Religion and personal grudges or displeased morals should be left at the door of a workplace. Don’t punish people for being human. This goes against everything free about America, it goes against the freedom people have fought for over 100 years.”

If employers can discriminate, Elliott predicted: “America will be its own war.”

“To pass ANY restriction on an American citizen (or legal resident) is anti-constitutional, in that…all men are created equal,” wrote Kathleen Sengbusch, a Floridian. “That means fair opportunities for ALL without reference to personal lifestyles. It is also morally wrong to JUDGE & exclude individual HUMAN BEINGS (who harm no one) as too different!! Justice must prevail for our LGBTQ citizens, period.”

“Equal Opportunity for ALL! Do not vote for this anti-American ruling!!” she concluded.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.