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Mississippi Attorney General joins 12-state coalition defending religious liberty

Attorney General Lynn Fitch filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit led by the State of New York against the U.S. Department of Labor challenging a Trump Administration rule clarifying the scope and application of religious exemptions for federal contractors.

The 12-state intervention motion was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York because the Biden-Harris Administration abandoned defense of the religious liberty protections.

“Religious organizations provide critical services to underserved and vulnerable populations, and their work has a profound impact in communities across Mississippi,” said Attorney General Lynn Fitch. “I have moved to intervene here to ensure religious organizations are not forced to abandon their religious identity in order to partner with the federal government in work that benefits our State economy, our workers, and our communities.”

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed Executive Order 11246 which set nondiscrimination requirements for federal government contractors and subcontractors. In 2002, President George W. Bush amended the Executive Order to exempt religious organizations from some of the Order’s nondiscrimination requirements. However, neither the Order, nor its implementing regulations, explained how to determine whether an organization qualified for the exemption. In December 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a final rule to clarify how religious organizations would be exempt from the Order’s nondiscrimination requirements.

On January 21, 2021, the State of New York, joined by 13 other states and the District of Columbia, filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York challenging the Department of Labor’s religious exemption clarification. A similar lawsuit opposing the Labor rule was also filed by a group of organizations in Oregon District Court. Both lawsuits were stayed after the Department of Labor subsequently announced that it intends to rescind the rule, a process that is expected to take several months.

In their motion to intervene, Mississippi and the other states argue that the challenged rule provides needed clarity to federal contractors and potential contractors in their states. Each state is “home to potential federal contractors who may decide to enter the eligible pool of federal contractors and subcontractors now that it is clear that religious organizations are not disfavored in government contracting, and they need not decide between following their religion and contracting with the federal government,” they state. “Under the Department’s Final Rule, they can do both.”

The states also urge that intervention is necessary because the federal government had reversed its position and refuses to defend its own rule. “Without intervention,” the motion states, “there will be no party in this litigation to defend the challenged regulation—even though the regulation provides needed clarity to federal contractors and potential contractors in the Proposed Defendant-Intervenor states, protects their religious liberties, encourages participation in the pool of federal contractors, and brings economic benefits to the states.”

According to USASpending.gov, in Fiscal Year 2020, the federal government awarded 30,457 contracts and subcontracts for work done in Mississippi.

In addition to Mississippi, the following states joined the Alabama-led motion, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Indiana, Montana, Nebraska, South Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia was filed on March 29th, 2021.

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