By Stephanie Taub, Senior Counsel of First Liberty Institute
Thanks to the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, the federal government clarified that it is free to work with whichever organization is best able to achieve the government’s goals, providing optimal services to those in need.
The guidelines, recently issued by the DOL, explain that under current law the federal government may not discriminate against religious contractors or subcontractors. Instead, all contractors, religious and non-religious, must be permitted to compete for federal contracts on an equal playing field.
A wide variety of charitable work across the country is done through government contracts with various organizations, including religious non-profits. For instance, Catholic Charities USA contracts with the government to provide disaster relief services. Lutheran organizations contract to help immigrants and refugees. Muslim and Jewish organizations often partner with the government to provide faith-based and chaplain services.
Since 2002, religious contractors have been protected by Section 204(c) of Executive Order 11246, which provides that a religious organization can maintain hiring practices faithful to its beliefs when it contracts with the federal government. But, certain guidelines issued by the Obama administration called into doubt whether religious organizations would have to abandon their internal religious character if they wished to continue to compete for federal contracts.
The new guidelines, building upon President Trump’s Executive Order on Religious Liberty, emphasize that the religious exemptions issued in 2002 will be interpreted broadly, allowing religious organizations to “participate fully in civic life.”