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American Atheists Opposes Employment Discrimination in the Name of Religion

Washington, D.C.—Today, American Atheists submitted testimony opposing the U.S. Department of Labor’s proposal to greatly expand the number of federal contractors who can claim religious exemptions, as well as the scope of those exemptions.

The proposed rule violates the First Amendment’s religion clauses. It not only substantially involves the government in religious practice but also promotes dominant religions. By allowing religious federal contractors to discriminate against employees who do not abide by the employer’s religious beliefs, employees who follow dominant religious beliefs will have an economic advantage over employees who are secular, who follow a less popular religion, or who interpret a dominant religion differently from their employer.

In addition, the rule harms third parties, especially atheist, LGBTQ, religious minority, and female workers. Under this rule, any federal contractor—even a construction company, janitorial service, or healthcare provider—can claim a religious mission and refuse to hire any group they disapprove of as long as they cite a religious reason.

Empowering federal contractors to discriminate will affect a massive segment of the country and economy. In 2018, the government spent $560 billion on federal contracts, and in 2017, there were over 4.1 million workers employed by government contractors.

“This rule has the potential to harm millions of American workers, and it is shameful that [the Department of Labor] has the temerity to propose such a sweeping and unjustified change to federal employment law, let alone doing so with only 30 days to respond,” said Alison Gill, American Atheists’ Vice President for Legal and Policy, who submitted the testimony. “[The proposed rule] should be withdrawn in its entirety.”