The Epoch Times

GOP Senators Seek to Overturn Biden Rule to Restrict Faith-Based Federal Contractors

By Mark Tapscott

A resolution of disapproval introduced by Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Ted Budd (R-N.C.) seeks to cancel a Biden administration regulatory rule that limits the First Amendment rights of religiously oriented federal contractors providing social services through the government.

President Joe Biden's then-Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh issued the proposal in November 2021 to nullify a 2020 provision that guaranteed such contractors the broadest protection of religious exercise "permitted by the U.S. Constitution and law."

Instead of guaranteeing such protection, the Biden proposal would restore the pre-Trump administration regulatory ban on "the arbitrary exclusion of qualified and talented employees on the basis of characteristics that have nothing to do with their ability to do work on government contracts." Prior to former President Donald Trump, religiously oriented federal contractors weren't permitted to include employment qualifications such as upholding particular religious beliefs such as opposing abortion.

Mr. Walsh left the administration earlier this year to become executive director of the National Hockey League Players Association. Mr. Biden nominated Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su to succeed Mr. Walsh, although a confirmation vote appears unlikely unless Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) withdraw their opposition to Ms. Su.

Under the Congressional Review Act of 1996, the Biden proposal, which became final on March 23, will remain as the law of the land unless both houses of Congress pass the Lankford–Budd disapproval resolution and the president signs it. Chances are remote that Mr. Biden would sign the measure.

Mr. Lankford and Mr. Budd have been joined by 23 Republican colleagues in the Senate as co-sponsors.

“Federal contractors should not have to check their faith at the door because they want to do business with the federal government,” Mr. Lankford said in a July 28 statement. “The First Amendment is clear that everyone in our nation has the right to have a faith, live their faith, change their faith, or have no faith at all. No American should be forced by any administration to choose between their First Amendment freedom and doing business with the federal government.

"I remain strongly opposed to the Biden Administration’s ongoing push to trample on Americans’ right to live their faith.”

The Lankford statement also notes that the Trump 2020 rule "provided clarification regarding the full scope of a religious exemption and affirmed that faith-based entities have the ability to hire people who share their faith mission, not just people who share the same religion."

"It also affirmed that contractors are able to carry out their work consistent with their faith mission even if they accept a federal contract or grant," it reads.

Mr. Budd defended the Trump rule as necessary to protect the religious freedoms of federal contractors.

“The Biden Administration’s reversal of this rule needlessly targets faith-based organizations that simply want to serve our communities alongside their secular counterparts without violating their religious beliefs. I am pleased to join this effort to keep the appropriate protections in place to ensure employers of faith are able to operate within their values,” Mr. Budd said in the same statement.

The 23 Senate co-sponsors are Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Katie Britt (R-Ala.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), John Thune (R-S.D.), and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho).

A companion bill is pending in the House of Representatives after being introduced by Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), with 32 co-sponsors. A vote on the House version is more likely because Republicans hold the majority.

The prospects for the resolution in the Senate are more tenuous as Democrats have a slim majority, and the floor schedule is controlled by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). But how two of the most notable Senate rebels—Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema—will vote is unpredictable. Spokespersons for the two senators didn't respond by press time to requests by The Epoch Times for comment.

The disapproval resolution is also supported by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee for Religious Liberty, scholars at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, America First Policy Institute, Advancing American Freedom, Independent Women’s Network, Family Research Council, Heritage Foundation, CatholicVote, Alliance Defending Freedom, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Family Policy Alliance.