Trump Labor Department Strengthens Protections for Religious Organizations

Michael Foust | Contributor | Tuesday, May 19, 2020
U.S. Department of Labor, Department of Labor strengthens religious liberty

Trump Labor Department Strengthens Protections for Religious Organizations

Acting on an executive order by President Trump, the Department of Labor issued a new directive and guidance Friday ensuring that religious and faith-based organizations are treated the same as secular organizations when partnering with the federal government. 

The guidance from Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia says religious organizations “are eligible, on the same basis as any other organization” to participate in the Department of Labor programs. The department “must not discriminate for or against an organization on the basis of the organization’s religious character or affiliation.” Otherwise, it could be violating “the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution.” 

“The directive and guidance issued today acknowledge the central role that religion and religious freedom play in civil society,” Scalia said. “The directive and guidance … send a clear message that the Department of Labor will continue to uphold religious liberty for America’s workforce, employees of the Department, and religious organizations.”

The guidance follows a Trump executive order from 2017 promoting religious liberty in several areas, including within the federal agencies.  

A Department of Labor memo says the directive also:

  • Ensures “religious liberty protections” for all department employees.
  • Ensures religious organizations “are given the opportunity to compete equally with non-religious organizations for Federal financial assistance at the Federal and State levels.”
  • Respects the “full scope of legal religious exemptions, including the ministerial exception.” The ministerial exception allows religious organizations to hire and fire based on their beliefs. 

The guidance says the Department of Labor “is committed to ensuring that DOL-supported social service programs are open to all qualified organizations, regardless of the organizations’ religious character.”

First Liberty Institute applauded the department for the new guidance.

“Without these protections, religious organizations risk facing discrimination for making employment decisions that are consistent with their beliefs,” said Kelly Shackelford, president of First Liberty Institute. “Religious organizations should never be forced to abandon their religious character and mission in order to be eligible to contract with the federal government.”


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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chroniclethe Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.