Federal government contracting is big business, really big. Last year close to half a trillion of your tax dollars were awarded to the private sector to perform services for the government in defense, energy, health, veterans affairs, homeland security, and many other sectors. While that number may seem significant, keep in mind that the overall federal budget is about $4 trillion. And even with conservative estimates, federal employees outnumber manufacturing sector employees by nearly to 2 to 1! In other words, the government remains way too big.
According to best estimates — the government has never been able to produce the exact data point — there are about 150,000 federal government contractors. Of these, close to just 2,000 are what are known as religious contractors. These are federal contractors from religious organizations or made up of persons of faith that provide much-needed services to the nation’s poor, sick, and even serving in the armed forces.
Religious contractors provide services that would not otherwise be available including cutting-edge university research, medical care for the poor and indigent, refugee services, and other social services that the government is not equipped or able to do. Religious contractors also provide vital services that help advance U.S. foreign policy as providers of foreign assistance programs and disaster relief. In fact, without religious contractors, it would be just about impossible to carry out U.S. foreign policy goals in most every region of the world. Religious organizations also provide supplies to our men and women of the military as well as chaplain services. Millions of Americans benefit from these services provided by religious contractors.
If the Democrats and their legions of supporters on the left have their way this Congress, taking Caesar’s coin will come with an even heavier political price, one that could prevent religious contractors from competing for federal government contracts altogether. Some have already opted not to compete for these contracts because they fear costly compliance audits, lawsuits, or, potentially more pernicious, the court of public opinion that could result in shuttering an entire business.
The last few years, attacks on people of faith have become especially vicious. These attacks have been playing out in a myriad of ways that, left unchecked, could permanently alter the Founding vision at the cost of our political soul. Religious contractors have become the latest target of the Left. A few weeks ago in Congress, opponents of religious liberty launched another battle against people of faith, one that I expect will continue this week and throughout the presidential campaign and will be used to push more religious contractors out of the federal procurement marketplace. The Democrats, and a few misguided Republicans, are trying to subvert the will of the majority of the American people to advance a position that, if unchecked, does a great injustice to people of faith. Their vitriol reminds me of a pack of angry dogs seeking to turn public opinion against people of faith with untruths and lies about religious contractors.
Our fellow travelers are upset about an amendment — less than 100 words in length — that was added to a must-pass bill that would protect the rights of religious contractors to make hiring and firing decisions consistent with their religious beliefs. Offered as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, Rep. Steve Russell’s (R-Okla.) legislative palliative ensures, if enacted, that people of faith can continue to provide essential services to millions of Americans, and others around the world, via the federal contracting process. It is not, as the Left has erroneously said, a way to deny services to LGBT people. The Russell Amendment just clears up ambiguity in the law, created by the Obama administration, without impinging on the rights of others to purchase products or services from people of faith.
This political, let’s call it, misunderstanding, started in 2014 when President Barack Obama decreed, I mean, issued, an executive order prohibiting discrimination by federal government contractors on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Notably absent from the Chief Priest’s edict was clear guidance on how this new rule would apply to religious contractors, and other people of faith, who provide essential services via federal government contracts. In what amounts to a political apostasy in the Left’s Church of Political Correctness, Congressional Republicans sought to remedy this legal ambiguity via, what a concept, the legislative process that included committee hearings and a fair and open floor debate.
So, you may be asking, why are the Democrats and a few Republicans howling at the moon? On the one hand, the move is political and designed for political self-preservation. They need to cater to part of their base. I don’t fault them for that; however, rather than making their views known in a balanced way, they are balkanizing the electorate in order to score cheap political points for Congressional candidates as well as hand Mrs. Bill Clinton another talking point. However, this issue transcends politics and the Democrats know it. The long-term and substantive ramifications of this anti-religious maneuver are disturbing and, at some level dangerous, because it seeks to silence people of faith, in this case, by pushing them out of the federal marketplace. It is borderline fascistic.
When opponents of the Russell Amendment are asked by fellow Congressmen why they oppose long-standing Constitutional protections for people of faith, the Democrats respond with coarse, untrue, and even bigoted statements against religious persons. During the committee and floor debates, Russell Amendment supporters were falsely accused of trying to “empower and enable” the illegal hiring and firing of LGBT employees, comparing it to old discrimination of “black” or “Jewish” persons. They called Republicans racist, hateful, and intolerant.
Russell Amendment opponents also tried to conflate legal and political issues, arguing that existing laws already protect people of faith in government contracting. That is only partially correct, and they know it. While there are religious exemptions contained in statute, neither the law nor regulations are exactly on point on whether religious contractors can pick and choose who works for them without running afoul of anti-discrimination laws and regulations. The Russell Amendment would remove legal clouds and, potentially, avert costly and time-consuming litigation such as the Little Sisters of the Poor case.
The good news is that despite the legislative antics as well as angry and, at times, bigoted name-calling against people of faith, Republicans in the House fought the good fight and won. With the support of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, indeed all of the House leadership, a majority, albeit a slim one, pushed back the angry dogs. This really upset the Democratic Caucus and in the days that followed, the Democrats launched an unprecedented public relations effort to build support to try to strip the Russell Amendment from the defense bill.
The Russell Amendment is not a legal panacea; in fact, no matter what happens in Congress this week the left will likely turn to the courts to restrict religious contractors from hiring persons who ascribe to moral codes and other religious teachings. Significant pressure is being placed on the Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) — who is in a tough re-election battle of his own — to remove the Russell Amendment from the NDAA once the House and Senate begin the conference to iron differences in the bill. The final outcome is unclear. That is the nature of lawmaking. However, rest assured that the attacks against people of faith will continue. In a flavor of what is to come, Russell Amendment detractors have shamelessly linked the terrorist attacks in Orlando to this issue, arguing that the language is anti-LGBT, and essentially implying, that people of faith are doing violence to LGBT people.
General George Patton once said “moral courage is the most valuable and usually the most absent characteristic in men.” It is clear from the Russell Amendment battle that there is a large number of Congressmen with the moral backbone to do what is right. They’ve stood their ground. In the weeks, months, and I’m afraid years ahead, I hope that Congressional Republicans as well as like-minded Democrats keep exercising moral courage and do what it right, rather than what is politically expedient.
No matter how loud the attack dogs bark, religious contractors have every right to bid and compete for federal government contracts. They are not the enemy and trying to vilify them, and encouraging the legions of special interests to do the same, is conduct unbecoming of an American.