House and Senate Republicans are calling on President Donald Trump to sign a “religious freedom” executive order that was leaked last month but has not yet been put into effect.
The proposed order, “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom,” would legalize discrimination based on religious beliefs “without suffering adverse treatment from the Federal Government.”
Discrimination under the guise of religious freedom would be acceptable “without suffering adverse treatment from the Federal Government,” according to a draft executive order.
According to a letter from Republican members of Congress, obtained by USA Today, the order is crucial “to protect millions of Americans whose religious freedom has been attacked or threatened over the last eight years” — leaving out of the equation the members of the LGBT community who would face even more attacks and threats than they already do.
Particularly, the Congress members cite abortion, access to contraceptives and gay marriage as areas of concern.
The letter, signed by dozens of Republicans, concludes by again emphasizing the need for the order “so that critical religious liberty and conscience protections may finally be restored to millions of Americans who have been harmed and left unprotected for far too many years” — ignoring the LGBT community that has apparently not “been harmed and left unprotected.”
At the time the draft order was leaked, White House officials reported to ABC News that the draft was one of many currently circulating the White House. White House press secretary Sean Spicer also said to reporters, “There is a lot of executive orders, a lot of things that the president has talked about and will continue to fulfill, but we have nothing on that front now.”
But this may have since changed, USA Today reports:
“But on Monday, a senior White House official told USA TODAY that some sort of policy to protect religious liberty is still in the works, but that the president is trying to find middle ground. The official did not want to publicly discuss a policy that is still under development.”
Eighteen Republican senators sent the president a letter similar to that of the Congress members. Signers included Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Marco Rubio (Fl.) and Rand Paul (Ky.) — three of Trump’s former opponents for the Republican nomination when running for president.
Like the Congress members, the senators call for necessary protection of religious freedom: “We have a responsibility to protect and defend the free exercise of religion for people of all faith here and around the world.”
Despite the claim for protecting “people of all faith,” research shows that Republicans generally believe people that look like them are the ones in need of protection. A recent poll from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that a higher percentage of Republicans believe whites and Christians face discrimination than Blacks, gay and lesbian people, immigrants and Muslims. Forty-five percent of Republicans believe whites face discrimination. And 48 percent of Republicans believe transgender people are discriminated against — the same percentage that believes Christians face discrimination.
A Pew study yielded different numbers but still indicated that Republicans are more likely than Democrats to believe whites and evangelical Christians face discrimination in today’s society.
Despite the claims made in the letter, and results from the PRRI poll, LGBT people need protection from discrimination, which remains a national problem. According to a 2015 Human Rights Campaign (HRC) poll, 63 percent of LGBT people have reported experiencing discrimination. And a 2013 Pew Research Center poll found that 58 percent of LGBT Americans have been subjected to jokes or slurs due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“LGBTQ refugees, immigrants, Muslims and women are scared today, and with good reason.” — HRC
LGBT people continue to live without legal protections in many instances. According to the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), less than half of LGBT Americans reside in a state that protects people from discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Just 47 percent live in a state that protects them from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity when it comes to housing.
Members of the Republican Party have not been allies to the LGBT community, a stance that has not gone unnoticed. The Pew report found that 76 percent of LGBT Americans consider the Republican Party “unfriendly toward” LGBTs. While Trump may be reportedly more progressive than many of his past fellow Republicans when it comes to LGBT rights, this does not say much. In June 2015 Trump said he supports “traditional marriage.” And after going back and forth about his stance on North Carolina’s notorious “bathroom bill,” he ultimately said the decision should be left “with the state.”
Civil rights, LGBT, women, disabilities, criminal justice reform, equal pay and climate change have all been removed from the White House website.
Just after taking office, Trump’s White House removed all references of LGBT rights on the White House website. A report called “Advancing LGBT Workplace Rights” also disappeared from the Department of Labor website.
If signed as originally written, the order, obtained by The Nation, covers a broad spectrum, allowing for discrimination not just in places of worship but in “all activities of life.” The text states, vaguely, “Americans and their religious organizations will not be coerced by the Federal Government into participating in activities that violate their consciences.”
As currently written, it would allow individuals as well as organizations to claim religious freedom “when providing social services, education, or healthcare; earning a living, seeking a job, or employing others; receiving government grants or contracts: or otherwise participating in the marketplace, the public square, or interfacing with Federal, State or local governments.”
The order defines “religious organization” in a very broad scope:
“’Religious organization’ shall be construed broadly to encompass any organization, including closely held for-profit corporations, operated for a religious purpose, even if its purpose is not exclusively religious, and is not limited to houses of worship or tax-exempt organizations, or organizations controlled by or associated with a house of worship or a convention or association of churches.”
And “religious exercise” is protected even if the cited beliefs do not necessarily align with that faith’s systemic views:
“‘Religious exercise’ includes all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief, and includes any act or any refusal to act that is motivated by a sincerely held religious belief, whether or not the act is required or compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.”
However, the order goes on to become much more specific, citing gay marriage, premarital sex, identifying as transgender and abortion as possible conflicts of interest — common beliefs evangelicals do not agree with. Further, all individuals will have access specifically to “health insurance that does not provide coverage for abortion and does not subsidize plans that do provide such coverage.”
The draft also specifically protects providers of child services “on the basis that the organization declines to provide, facilitate, or refer such services due to a conflict with the organization’s religious beliefs” — meaning facilities could turn away same-gender couples, unmarried mothers or women who have had abortions.
Further, federal employees are broadly protected from “adverse action … on the basis of their speaking or acting in accordance with the beliefs described in section 4(e)(2) of this order while outside the scope of their employment, contract, or grant, and [agencies] shall reasonably accommodate such speech and action when made within the course of their employment, contract, or grant.”