The administration is poised to make it easier for employers to discriminate against LGBTQ people, those seeking reproductive care and women. The Department of Labor has proposed a new rule to grant federal contractors a broad religious exemption to the equal opportunity clause, which would put more than 11.3 million Americans who already suffer from high rates of poverty and workplace discrimination in more precarious economic positions. The Babcock Foundation submitted public comment opposing the rule change via regulations.gov. We encourage others who oppose discrimination of all forms to submit comments. Our friends at Funders for LGBTQ Issues have made it easy by providing instructions and a template, complete with citations for the data included. Please note, the deadline is Monday, September 16.
To Harvey D. Fort, Acting Director, Division of Policy and Program Development, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs:
I am writing on behalf of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation to express our strong oppositionto the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs proposal to clarify the scope and application of the religious exemption contained in section 204(c) of Executive Order 11246 (also known as the equal opportunity clause), published in the Federal Register on August 15, 2019.
Our foundation’s mission is helping people and places move out of poverty and achieve greater social and economic justice. We provide more than $9 million annually to support charitable organizations in 11 Southern states advancing economic opportunity, supportive policies and institutions, and democracy and civic engagement.
We believe the proposed change would undermine our work and that of our grantees, who strive daily in challenging conditions to increase opportunity for all. It would unnecessarily exacerbate the economic disparities faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, as well as women and people who seek reproductive care. Many studies have shown LGBTQ people live in poverty at disproportionately high rates across the country. Despite having achieved higher levels of education, on average, than the general population, our LGBTQ friends and family make far less money, leading to food insecurity, housing instability and violence. Discrimination, low wages and violence are particularly acute among LGBTQ people of color.
This proposed change threatens the economic livelihood of 11.3 million Americans who identify as LGBTQ, and who are already twice as likely to be unemployed as the rest of us. One in four LGBTQ people earns less than $24,000 a year, while fewer than one in five non-LGBTQ people earns less than $24,000 a year. They lack federal workplace protections, meaning they can be unfairly fired, not hired, or discriminated against by private employers on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity in the 26 states that lack statewide nondiscrimination protections. Discrimination against LGBTQ people happens with alarming regularity. A 2017 Harvard University study found 20 percent of LGBTQ adults have experienced discrimination in applying for a job and 22 percent adults have experienced discrimination with respect to equal pay or promotion. It is even worse for transgender people; the National Center for Transgender Equality’s 2015 survey found 30 percent of transgender people reported being fired, denied a promotion, or some other form of mistreatment on account of their transgender status. Exempting hardworking LGBTQ people from workplace protections would exacerbate their already tenuous financial situations and make them far more likely to remain in or fall into poverty, a condition the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation and our grantee partners seek to eliminate for all Southerners, to the socioeconomic benefit of all Americans.
Legislation and rules that jeopardize the economic well-being of this community are bad for the U.S. economy and undermine the core American principles of economic opportunity for all. As such, we oppose the proposed rule to expand the scope and application of the equal opportunity clause’s religious exemption. The new rule could allow contractors to use religious beliefs as a smokescreen for discrimination, not only against LGBTQ people, but also against women.
We are further disturbed by the creeping erosion of our fundamental American value of the separation of church and state. If the government enables employers to claim a religious exemption to anti-discrimination protections, it gives the appearance the federal government supports religious beliefs to the detriment of those who do not share those same beliefs, which runs absolutely contrary to our nation’s founding principles, and the role of the OFCCP, whose mission is to “protect workers, promote diversity and enforce the law.” The new rule could ultimately harm religious freedom, in the name of protecting it, by allowing people of one faith to discriminate against those of another faith.
For the aforementioned reasons, we believe the proposed change to the equal opportunity clause’s religious exemption is harmful, unconstitutional and inconsistent with the original intent of equal opportunity policies. We hope you will reconsider the change in the service of securing a future where freedom and opportunity are within reach for everyone.
We thank you for your consideration.
Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation