The Biden administration has proposed new federal guidelines that would politicize the civil service and potentially bar Christians and others who hold disfavored opinions from government employment. Critics say the president’s proposal essentially states, “Conservatives need not apply.”
Current federal law deems an applicant “unsuitable” for federal employment if the applicant engages in “[k]nowing and willful engagement in acts or activities designed to overthrow the U.S. [g]overnment by force.” (Emphasis added.) But the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) proposal would strike the words “by force with a collection of provisions that are broad, ill-defined, and over-inclusive,” said a comment offered by Family Research Council. “We urge the OPM to withdraw the proposed rule changes.”
Removing the words “by force” renders the rule “dangerously vague. Such lack of clarity would give the government great leeway in keeping people out of federal employment that it did not like,” Chris Gacek, coalitions senior research fellow at FRC who guided the group’s comment, told The Washington Stand. “The provisions repeatedly ran afoul of First Amendment norms — and would imperil the rights of clergy and religious believers.”
The Biden administration admits its new, legally binding employment policy includes “more nuanced factors,” but only punishes “conduct that is not protected by the First Amendment.” Still, FRC objects that the code contains “vague and broad provisions that could target disfavored groups with unpopular beliefs — including groups of religious believers whose beliefs not infrequently challenge societal norms and loyalties.”
For instance, one part of the revised policy would ban acts of “force, violence, intimidation, or coercion with the purpose of denying others the free exercise of their rights under the U.S. constitution or any state constitution.” The Biden administration has repeatedly stated the U.S. Constitution contains a right to an abortion, in contravention of a current Supreme Court ruling.
Further, “the idea that mere speech can be deemed ‘violence’ has gained some acceptance in much of America,” FRC’s comment states. “Such thinking, if absorbed into OPM legal practice, could transform pure speech into ‘violence,’ ‘intimidation,’ and ‘coercion.’” Yet the underlying action, of engaging in free speech, “does not seem far removed from teaching, instructing, or preaching doctrine — a common practice in churches, seminaries, and schools.”
It would also deny government employment to any applicant who belongs to a group with “unlawful aims,” a term FRC found broad enough to include those who sheltered runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad. FRC asked Biden officials if a pastor who allows an illegal immigrant to take sanctuary inside his church, or who holds services in defiance of a pandemic order, could be denied government employment.
“There needs to be a precise definition of violence in the rule to preclude such unconstitutional, post-modern interpretations of the law,” FRC continued. Since the regulation’s current wording does not require criminal conviction, “how does the OPM plan to decide whether state constitutional provisions have been violated?
The request for clarity comes as Democrats classify an ever-widening panoply of actions as acts of “insurrection,” a term legally condemned by the U.S. Constitution. These actions include refusing to automatically mail ballots to inactive voters, automatically registering everyone with a driver’s license to vote — even voting to remove then-Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) from her House leadership position. Using broad definitions of such terminology in the national or state constitutions, Democratic officials have sued to keep Republican candidates — including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-Ga.) and Rep. David Eastman (R-Alaska) — off the ballot. Both Democrats’ disenfranchising lawsuits proved unsuccessful.
Yet under Biden’s proposed federal employment guidelines, applicants would never see their day in court. Instead, the language “would allow hiring managers to reject candidates solely on the grounds of being lawfully critical of government policy,” said a statement spearheaded by the Heritage Foundation and signed by 41 people representing 35 organizations, including Quena González of Family Research Council. “[T]he terms used in the proposed change, ‘intimidate’ and ‘coerce,’ have become synonymous — wrongly so — in the eyes of some, with vigorous, active speech that seeks to change opinions and federal and state laws.” As a result, “opinions on abortion, the Second Amendment, or climate change, or membership in an association that actively works to change the law on such issues, whatever side of the political aisle they are, could be used by a hiring manager to unfairly reject an otherwise well-qualified, excellent employee.”
The statement — which calls the OPM regulation “unwarranted and dangerous” — has been signed by former Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts, Reagan administration OPM Director Donald J. Devine, former HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson, Leadership Institute President Morton Blackwell, Sandy Rios of the American Family Association, Claremont Institute President Ryan P. Williams, Concerned Women for America President Penny Nance, Jon Schweppe of the American Principles Project, and Jordan Sekulow of ACLJ Action, among others.
The rule accelerates what critics call Biden’s pattern of politicizing the federal bureaucracy. The White House demanded members of the Consumer Financial Protection Board (CFPB) quit and, when they refused, launched investigations into recalcitrant conservatives. “It’s very clear what’s happening — it’s forcing people out who are not political actors,” a former CFPB employee told the Government Executive website. “This is being done in a pretty underhanded way and, frankly, they are getting away with it.”
Such efforts stretch back to Biden’s very first day in office, when the president demanded National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) General Counsel Peter Robb resign or be fired. Robb’s tenure did not end for months, and a previous administration’s appointees have typically served out their full terms alongside new members. Yet in a violation of norms, Biden proceeded to fire both Robb and his assistant, Alice Stock, placing the agency under the leadership of former union lawyer Jennifer Abruzzo. He then fired the general counsel of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Sharon Gustafson, after she refused to resign, as well as Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul and religious liberty/civil rights official Roger Severino.
Biden went on to clear-cut numerous members of the Council of the Administrative Conference of the United States, the National Capital Planning Commission, and to terminate all 10 members of the Federal Services Impasse Panel (which also deals with labor unions’ concerns).
The White House then set its sights on the military, targeting 18 Trump appointees to military advisory boards such as the Air Force Academy, West Point, and the Naval Academy. Biden also fired members of the Homeland Security Advisory Council and the Administrative Conference of the United States.
Fantasies of depriving one’s political enemies of the ability to earn a living, in the public or private sector, have increasingly consumed the Left. In 2020, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) endorsed the work of the Trump Accountability Project to blacklist “Trump sycophants” from gainful employment.
“In the Biden regime, the new rule could more simply be written as ‘conservatives need not apply,’” said Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts.
Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.
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