Elections do have consequences, large and small. The previous Administration announced several times that it would be working with Congress to pass infrastructure legislation. No progress was ever made. But this week the new Congress sent President Biden a bipartisan bill to sign that provides $1.2 trillion for infrastructure over several years. That’s a big consequence.
The same week also brought a small but welcome consequence. The Department of Labor proposed rescinding a policy (a “rule” in bureaucracy-speak) put in place under the Trump Administration that allows federal contractors to discriminate in hiring based on their religious beliefs. In August, 2019 the White House announced a rule to clarify that faith-based organizations “may make employment decisions consistent with their sincerely held religious tenets and beliefs without fear of sanction by the federal government.” That rule went into effect on January 8th of this year, allowing faith-based contractors such as businesses or social service agencies to hire or not hire based on religion, sexual orientation, or other characteristics. This is now being reversed.
The Secular Coalition for America takes the position that the religious beliefs of federal contractors should be irrelevant when they hire employees to work in a program funded by the taxpayers. We support this new rule and you can too. If you want to officially comment to the Department of Labor, go to this page and use the comments we have provided. Feel free to add your thoughts as well. Comments are due by December 9th.
One of our priorities at SCA is seeing that the Biden Administration rolls back the harmful policies put in place in federal agencies during the previous four years. We met with White House officials last spring and gave them our recommendations. This rule change was one of them. It shouldn’t have taken this long, but we are pleased that the process is moving forward.
Last week a group of House Republicans introduced a resolution “expressing support for” the First Amendment. (Something that generally gets a lot of support already.) The resolution focuses on freedom of speech and specifically freedom of speech on campus. The Secular Coalition for America certainly supports the First Amendment too, but this looked like a good opportunity to remind the resolution’s authors that the First Amendment also establishes the separation of government and religion, so we sent them a letter. It mentions that one of our coalition member organizations, the Secular Student Alliance, exemplifies a group that should always have their freedom of speech on campus protected.
The House resolution briefly mentions language from a 1943 Supreme Court decision concerning the role of schools in our society. Our letter reminds the resolution’s authors that this was the decision that allowed students who were Jehovah’s Witnesses to refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance because it conflicted with their religious beliefs. (You can read a previous Heretic on the Hill that criticized a Senate Resolution which praises the Pledge of Allegiance and specifically the addition of “Under God.” It’s worth clicking on just to appreciate Justice Jackson’s moving conclusion to his 1943 opinion.)
Rarely is there a perfect piece of legislation in Congress. The Secular Coalition supports H.Res. 770 but would support it even more if the importance of the Establishment Clause were at least mentioned.
Your advocate on the Hill,
Director of Policy and Government Affairs
Secular Coalition for America