The Trump administration Wednesday unveiled a proposed rule that would greatly expand the exemption that allows religious entities to ignore anti-discrimination laws by broadening the definition to include federal contractors that declare themselves to be religious.
The Department of Labor said the rule is proposed in order to provide “the broadest protection of religious exercise” for companies that compete for federal contracts.
LGBTQ advocates decried the proposed rule and said that it would permit companies to decline to hire lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people, in addition to individuals who do not practice their religion.
“This proposal is part and parcel of an ongoing and coordinated attack by this administration on LGBTQ people aimed at rolling back our rights under the false guise of religion. It’s really nothing more than a permission slip to discriminate,” said Zeke Stokes, chief programs officer for GLAAD, the LGBTQ advocacy group.
“Given the conservative religious affiliations of many large institutional employers that seek federal contracts, we know the most vulnerable workers will be LGBTQ people, as well as Muslims, Jews and other religious minorities,” Jennifer C. Pizer, Lambda Legal’s director of law and policy, said. “For more than half a century, the federal purse has been a transformative driver of equal workplace opportunity in this country. And once again, appallingly, this administration is betraying our nation’s core commitment to liberty and justice for all — in service of an extreme, discriminatory religious agenda.”
The American Civil Liberties Union noted in a statement that “nearly one-quarter of the employees in the U.S. work for an employer that has a contract with the federal government.”
The proposal says it is intended to “clarify the scope and applications of the religious exemption contained in section 204(c) of Executive Order 11246,” which banned federal contractors from discriminating in employment decisions on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin” when it was signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965.
The proposal argues that a variety of Supreme Court decisions, like Hobby Lobby, have expanded the legal understanding of which companies count as religious. That religious exemption as written in 1965 was designed to ensure that churches could decline to hire people outside their faith, and religious schools could choose to hire members of their own faith, for example, without running afoul of the ban on private employment discrimination.
“Although these decisions are not specific to the federal government’s regulation of contractors, they have reminded the federal government of its duty to protect religious exercise — and not to impede it,” the proposal says.
The proposal claims that religious companies “previously provided feedback to OFCCP that they were reluctant to participate as federal contractors because of uncertainty regarding the scope of the religious exemption.”
The proposal is expansively written and makes clear that the “religious exemption covers not just churches but employers that are organized for a religious purpose, hold themselves out to the public as carrying out a religious purpose, and engage in exercise of religion consistent with, and in furtherance of, a religious purpose,” and also makes clear that “employers can condition employment on acceptance of or adherence to religious tenets without sanction by the federal government, provided that they do not discriminate based on other protected bases.”
And, crucially, the proposed rule relies on an array of legal opinions to construct a new, national legal test of whether a company is “religious.” The company need not be primarily religion-oriented. It need only to declare itself to be, for instance, religious “in response to inquiries from a member of the public or a government entity.”
Companies that refuse to hire LGBTQ people, or women, or any other protected class may do so if they say their religion prohibits them from hiring those who disagree with their faith. The proposal makes clear that it’s expanding the right of religious companies to not just “prefer” to hire those who share their religious beliefs, but “to condition employment on acceptance of or adherence to religious tenets as understood by the employing contractor.” If a construction company says it only hires Christians, this rule would allow that company to compete for a federal contract to renovate a government building, for instance.
The proposed rule now undergoes a 30-day public comment period.
Joe Biden hits back amid reports Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate his son
“Trump’s doing this because he knows I’ll beat him like a drum,” Biden said. The comments come amid reports that President Trump pressed the head of Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Trump administration also announced it would deploy troops to Saudi Arabia after the attack on its oil fields last week.
Elizabeth Warren edges out Joe Biden in Des Moines Register Iowa poll
The poll out Saturday night found Warren was the top choice for the Democratic nomination with 22 percent support among likely caucus-goers, while Biden had the support of 20 percent of respondents. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders fell to third with 11 percent.
The poll was conducted of 602 likely Democratic caucus-goers from Sept. 14-18. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The last Register/CNN poll, in June, had Biden leading with 24 percent and Warren in the third spot at 15 percent, slightly behind Bernie Sanders, who came in second with 16 percent support.
While there have been several other recent polls of the crucial first-in-the-nation caucus state, the Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll, conducted by Des Moines-based pollster Ann Selzer, is widely considered to be the most accurate, so its Saturday night releases have become must-watch events for Iowa politicos.
The poll was released after the entire 2020 Democratic presidential field gathered in Des Moines Saturday for the annual Steak Fry, a fundraising event hosted by the local Democratic Party club.
Warren surged 7 points in the poll since the June survey, while Biden lost a bit of ground, putting them neck-and-neck inside the poll’s margin of error.
Sanders and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, both slipped significantly, down 5 and 6 percentage points, respectively, leaving Buttigieg at 9 percent, down from 15.
The rest of the field, meanwhile, is mired in the single digits.
California Sen. Kamala Harris held steady at 6 percent, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker gained a couple of points to land at 3 percent, while coming at 2 percent were Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, billionaire Tom Steyer, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and entrepreneur Andrew Yang. Everyone else was at 1 percent or below.
Still, just one-in-five likely Democratic caucus-goers said they had already made up their minds so the race remains fluid. Almost two-thirds said they were open to being convinced to support someone else.
“The data in this poll seem to suggest the field is narrowing, but my sense is there’s still opportunity aplenty,” Selzer told the Register. “The leaders aren’t all that strong. The universe is not locked in.”
But the data is unquestionably good news for Warren, who is now both the best-liked candidate in the field (75 percent view her favorably) and the candidate being considered by the most likely caucus-goers (71 percent).
Voters go ‘center-left’ on issues, but not on candidates
WASHINGTON – When it comes to issues and issue agendas, there is good news and bad news for Democrats in 2020 in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
On the good news side of the ledger, there some key issues where voters seem supportive of left-leaning ideas and approaches. The bad news, a leftward-lean does not mean a leftward rush. If Democratic candidates push too hard in the primaries they may find themselves with problems in the general election.
The issue agreements and differences with registered voters and Democratic primary voters are eye-opening and, in some cases, surprising.
One number that jumps out of the data, 58 percent of registered voters in the survey say they support “providing free tuition at state colleges and universities.” That’s lower than the 81 percent of Democratic primary voters who support the idea and there’s a lot of wiggle room in how respondents may have interpreted the question (would it be means-tested?), but it’s still a majority.
And there are a series of issues like that one, where Democrats seem to have registered voters in their corner on topics ranging from immigration and student debt to health care and the environment.
For instance, 67 percent of registered voters and 89 percent of Democratic primary voters say they favor allowing young adults who were brought illegally to this country to stay here to attend college. On student debt, 64 percent of registered voters and 82 percent of Democratic primary voters favor forgiving student loans after someone has paid 12.5 percent of their income every year for 15 years.
The two groups are also in agreement on offering a health insurance “public option” for people younger than 65 who want to buy into it, 67 percent and 78 percent favor that idea respectively. And both registered voters and Democratic primary voters favor “shifting the country to 100 percent renewable energy and stopping the use of coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear power by the year 2030” – 52 percent and 81 percent support that idea.
Those are numbers that should bring smiles to the faces of Democrats. They show a lot of broad support on some major issues that Democrats say they favor and seem to suggest Democrats are in a good spot to win voters in 2020.
For the record, the data also show that both registered voters and Democratic primary voters oppose building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and oppose eliminating the Affordable Care Act.
But there is another set of numbers in the poll that show the challenges Democrats could face on these same issues if their nominee heads down a path that goes a little further to the left.
On immigration, 64 percent of Democratic primary voters want to give undocumented immigrants government health care, only 36 percent of registered voters want that. When it comes to student debt, 60 percent of Democratic primary voters say they favor immediately canceling and forgiving all current student loan debt, but only 41 percent of registered voters support that idea.
A solid 63 percent of Democratic primary voters back a “Medicare for all” single-payer health care system “in which private health insurance would be eliminated” – only 41 percent of registered voters agree. And while 58 percent of Democratic primary voters support an end to the practice of “fracking” for oil and gas production, only 41 percent of registered voters feel the same way.
Those are some wide gaps and the splits show that winning general election support is not just about talking about the right issues (clean energy, fixing student debt), it’s about talking about them in the right way.
The registered voter answers on these questions suggest that the U.S. electorate become a center-left entity in the last few elections, one that is embracing more liberal action on issues such as climate change, health care and college costs.
But these numbers also suggest that the “center-left” is not the “left” and that’s where many Democratic primary voters reside.
The next six to eight months will determine where the Democratic nominee eventually ends up on these issues. And if the party’s nominee moves too far too fast to placate primary voters, he or she may end up standing on uncomfortable ground next November.
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