LGBT Ex. Order & Religious Freedom

LGBT Ex. Order & Religious Freedom

The White House announced on June 23, 2014, that the President has directed his staff to prepare an Executive Order banning job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity by federal contractors (a so-called LGBT Executive Order). It seems that this will only apply to federal contracts and not to federal grants. Some news stories suggest the EO will be signed on June 30.

Such an EO, if it lacks an exemption for faith-based organizations, will be very damaging.  Many religious organizations have a belief and conduct policy for employees to ensure that the staff models the values of the organization.  Some of these organizations currently contract with the federal government to provide research, consulting, or technical assistance; to provide overseas relief and development services, some portion of which are funded by contracts and not grants; to provide services to prisoners or ex-prisoners in Dept. of Justice programs, etc.  They would be barred from contracting if the Executive Order lacks a religious exemption.

Even more important, an Executive Order providing for LGBT job protections without at the same time ensuring strong religious freedom protections will be a strong signal to the courts that the federal government asserts that LGBT equality is a higher value than religious exercise and the freedom of religious organizations.  That is not the way to honor constitutional rights.

In sharp contrast, an EO that provides strong religious freedom protections while prohibiting wrongful discrimination against LGBT employees will be a strong signal to the courts that religious freedom is not to be suppressed in the effort to protect LGBT persons from unjust treatment.  This will be important not only for the faith-based organizations that seek federal contracts but in all of the instances when LGBT civil rights are said to be pitted against religious exercise and the rights of religious organizations.

Why announce that such an EO is being prepared, rather than just hold a ceremony and celebrate the President’s signature on the EO?  It seems likely that the President is testing public opinion, waiting to see how strongly religious communities and faith-based organizations speak up.  If there is not much of a response, the President may be emboldened to act entirely in favor of LGBT equality over religious freedom, as he is being urged to do in this precedent-setting executive action.

IRFA, along with allies, has prepared a letter to the President urging the inclusion of strong religious freedom protections, such as the Senate  included when, last November, it passed the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA).  ENDA is not being taken up by the House, but would be a federal law applying to all but small employers, forbidding job discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity.  Against pressure to weaken the ENDA bill’s religious protections, the Democratic Senate instead strengthened them.

The letter is being circulated for signatures among faith-based organizations, religious leaders, and church-state experts.

Individuals interested in standing up for the religious freedom of religious organizations as our nation takes action against discrimination against LGBT people can do this:

Call the White House Comment Line (202-456-1111) or Switchboard (202-456-1414).  Or email the President.  http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments

Say you are calling about the President’s LGBT Executive Order and that you urge the President to include very strong religious freedom protections when he issues the Order so that faith-based organizations are not excluded from serving the public in partnership with government and religious rights are not suppressed as other rights are secured.

 Call your two Senators and your member of the House of Representatives.  Call the Capitol Switchboard (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected to the appropriate office.  Or email your Senators and Representative.

Say you are calling or writing about the President’s LGBT Executive Order and that you urge [your Senator, your Representative] to tell the White House that such an Executive Order must include very strong religious freedom protections so that faith-based organizations are not excluded from serving the public in partnership with government and religious rights are not suppressed as other rights are secured.