This week, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions will hold a confirmation hearing on the nomination of Betsy DeVos to serve as Secretary of Education. Hearings will also be upcoming on the nominations of Tom Price to serve as secretary of health and human services and Andrew Puzder to serve as secretary of labor.
Senators on the relevant committees should question all three of these nominees regarding their commitment to ensuring that taxpayer dollars are never used to fund discrimination. And there are reasons for serious concern.
DeVos, who is being considered to oversee the nation’s public education system, has a long history of advocating for the use of public dollars to support private schools, even those that engage in discrimination and lack the protections of our nation’s civil rights laws.
Price, who would set the national health policy agenda if confirmed and have authority to administer health care programs affecting nearly all Americans, has supported numerous policies during his congressional career that discriminate against women and members of the LGBT community.
Last year, as a member of Congress from Georgia, Price co-sponsored the so-called “First Amendment Defense Act,” legislation that would allow sweeping, taxpayer-funded discrimination against LGBT people, single mothers, and unmarried couples. He also voted for the Conscience Protection Act and co-sponsored the Health Care Conscience Rights Act, bills that would discriminate against women seeking abortions under the guise of protecting religious liberty. Additionally, he voted in 2015 to block Washington, D.C.’s nondiscrimination law that prohibits workplace discrimination based on an employee’s personal reproductive health care decisions.
Puzder, if confirmed, would head a department tasked with enforcing President Obama’s historic 2014 executive order to prohibit federal government contractors from discriminating against applicants and employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. These nondiscrimination requirements are built on protections that have been in place since the administration of President Lyndon Johnson and have been enforced by every administration — Democratic and Republican — since. Given his outspoken opposition to legal protections for individuals in the workplace, Puzder should be pressed about his commitment to faithfully enforce these nondiscrimination protections.
The Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Labor all provide significant federal grants and contracts. There is a bipartisan tradition in this country of prohibiting taxpayer-funded discrimination. To allow the recipients of taxpayer dollars through grants and contracts — including those that are religiously affiliated — to discriminate because of religion or beliefs would significantly undermine our nation’s commitment to civil rights.
Freedom of religion and belief is a core American value. Religious liberty protects the right to both believe and act according to an individual’s faith, but it does not give the right to discriminate against or harm others. These three nominees, if confirmed, will oversee a wide range of programs that impact millions of Americans’ education, health care, and employment. It is critical to determine where they stand on this principle. And the senators doing so should also make it clear to the nominees that when it comes to fighting discrimination and protecting freedom of religion, turning back the clock is unacceptable and will be fought tooth and nail.