Many Religious Leaders Oppose Religious Exemption in Anti-Discrimination Order

The Atlantic’s Molly Ball describes the letter from religious leaders to President Obama, requesting an exemption from his forthcoming executive order barring sexual orientation discrimination by federal contractors:

The Hobby Lobby decision has been welcomed by religious-right groups who accuse Obama of waging a war on religion. But Tuesday’s letter is different: It comes from a group of faith leaders who are generally friendly to the administration, many of whom have closely advised the White House on issues like immigration reform. The letter was organized by Michael Wear, who worked in the Obama White House and directed faith outreach for the president’s 2012 campaign. Signers include two members of Catholics for Obama and three former members of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

But there are plenty of religious figures — most if not all of whom could be described as “generally friendly to the administration” — who oppose granting such a religious exemption. As I wrote yesterday, 90 civil rights and religious groups oppose the religious exemption the Department of Justice has granted to contractors under the Violence Against Women Act. The Coalition Against Religious Discrimination, which boasts numerous faith-based members from different religious traditions, has, for five years, opposed the administration’s ongoing granting of religious exemptions to federal contractors.

It’s true that many of of the figures signing the letter – organized by a former campaign and White House staffer who now runs a consulting firm that says it “advis[es] Christian leaders and organizations on cultural, political, policy and communications issues” — are “friendly” to Obama or worked for his campaign. But it’s also true that many more advocacy and faith-based organizations that support church-state separation, religious freedom, and LGBT rights (and have no stake in this issue as federal contractors) are also friendly to Obama and strongly oppose an exemption. The Rev. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, who supports the executive order but expressed opposition to an exemption when Obama first announced the executive order last month, reiterated his opposition yesterday, saying, “The tenet that religion should never be legitimated as a license to discriminate remains our core belief; that federal money must never be used to fund such discrimination must remain the bedrock of religious freedom in America.”

On June 24, after Obama’s announcement of the executive order, The Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of Washington National Cathedral, praised Obama’s action, adding, “I also take issue with calls from some faith leaders for the inclusion of a religious exemption in the executive order or in federal legislation. They falsely claim that federal workplace non-discrimination legislation would threaten religious freedom. As a Christian, it is deplorable to me to suggest that someone should have the right to discriminate against you for simply who you are or whom you love.”

Equally Blessed, a coalition of four pro-LGBT rights Catholic organizations, issued this statement on June 27:

A broad religious exemption would affect not only ministers but thousands of educators, health care providers and nonprofit administrators employed by the Catholic Church. Religiously affiliated hospitals would have grounds to fire LGBT doctors. Religiously affiliated universities could fire LGBT faculty. Religiously affiliated social service and relief agencies could fire LGBT social workers and program officers.  Such actions would not only harm individual employees and their families, but would also damage the effectiveness of these valuable institutions. According to a March 2011 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, 73 percent of U. S. Catholics support laws that would protect gay and lesbian people from discrimination in the workplace. We join these Catholics in urging President Obama to sign an executive order protecting LGBT workers without a religious exemption, so that our Catholic employees can be free to serve our church and wider society without the threat of discrimination.

As I’ve noted numerous times before, as a candidate Obama appeared to understand this issue, pledging to end federally-funded workplace discrimination based on religion. But a center-right group of religious activists have long used the hiring issue to pressure Obama, hinting that he would lose their support if he didn’t maintain an exemption, and claiming that they could not continue their federally-funded faith-based charitable work without being allowed to engage in what they call “co-religionist” hiring. As recounted by Tony Campolo, a pro-Obama evangelical who supported the exemption, Obama yielded to their pressure:

During the days leading up to the [2008] November election, there were numerous telephone conversations between Obama’s political strategists and the leaders of some of the largest faith-based organizations in the country. To still the anxieties of these leaders, word was sent down on the eve of the election giving assurances that if no fuss was made by drawing attention to these problems, the policies that were in place on these matters during the Bush Administration would be continued. The message, according to one Christian leader, was that Obama himself had communicated this to him. The policy permitting religious exemptions has continued to remain in place, five years later.

That “friendly” advocates are pressing Obama in the wake of Hobby Lobby causes additional concern, in that their letter could be interpreted as a request that Obama not only further entrench the available exemption to non-profit contractors, but extend it to for-profit contractors who claim they operate out of religious motivation. But things were different in 2008 and 2009, when Obama yielded to the concerns of the proponents of  taxpayer funded “co-religionist” hiring. It’s long been an issue that has flown under the radar, drawing little attention or interest from the public. Now the Hobby Lobby decision has raised the public’s awareness of religious exemptions. The letter from the 14 religious figures is not a man-bites-dog story. It’s an old story of Obama’s efforts to form alliances with center-right evangelicals and Catholics, even as they opposed key parts of his agenda. But they’re not the only Obama-friendly religious figures. There are many others whose faith is not offended by being required to comply with anti-discrimination laws.

(An earlier version of this post misidentified the consulting firm Wear runs. We regret the error).

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email

  • Jim Reed

    Religion is a mine field because of all the contradictions. If Obama gets involved, he will have no choice but to try to clear the mine field the hard way, by stepping on them.

  • lewr2

    how is it a minefield?

  • Jim Reed

    contraception, creationism, public prayer, whatever they come up with next. They want trouble, and they need trouble to justify why they are better than others, and they will find trouble, or cause it.

  • lewr2

    Well, those things are part of what their belief is isn’t it? There are even non-christian buddihsts that believe in those things, so I’m not sure why those are issues for you jim. How do any of those things make them ‘better’ than others?

  • Jim Reed

    Christianity runs on vanity. It is important for them to see Christians as better than others so that they can be enthusiastic about church and being in the faith. It is hard for Christians themselves to see the vanity, because they see it as humility. They admit they are natural born evil sinners, and the only reason they can rise above that is because God Almighty, creater and ruler of the universe, resides in their hearts and guides them from moment to moment. Without God they are nothing, so they give God total credit for all the love they have in their hearts and all the good things they do. It is really God working through them. Either that, or Jesus. This is the split. Some see this as the way of humility, and some see it as disguised vanity.

  • Jim Reed

    Christianity is the majority religion here, so they react differently. Buddhists and others just don’t want to be discriminated against. Christianity has more power, so they WOULD like to discriminate against others, and code their beliefs into law. We need to protect the others, and fight the Christians.

  • Jim Reed

    It became clear how dangerous that minefield was in the run up to the Iraq war. Republicans thought they were establishing Rove’s permanent majority, and Democrats were running scared. They thought they had to support the war or they would be called unpatriotic, and not elected next time. Christians get the lions share of the blame because they were the voting block that enabled the Republican monster.

  • lewr2

    Here’s the definition of vanity. Seems like it runs a bit counter to what you said. I think we can see from society, that it is vain.

    Vanity
    excessive pride in one’s appearance, qualities, abilities, achievements, etc.; character or quality of being vain; conceit: Failure to be elected was a great blow to his vanity.
    2.an instance or display of this quality or feeling.
    3.something about which one is vain.
    4. lack of real value; hollowness; worthlessness: the vanity of a selfish life.
    5.something worthless, trivial, or pointless

  • lewr2

    You skirted the issue jim. Go back and try again. They believe in the same things.

  • Jim Reed

    Buddhists are not trying to kill our new health care system just to show their religion is superior to Obama.

  • Jim Reed

    It seems to me, the more sure Christians are about their Christian beliefs, the more it leads to vanity. Those Christian sects that are no longer totally sure about any of the old beliefs don’t seem to be caught up in vanity in that same way.

  • lewr2

    What you perceive is called the walking away described pretty aptly in the bible.

    Here’s the definition of vanity. Seems like it runs a bit counter to
    what you said. I think we can see from society, that it is vain.

    Vanity
    excessive
    pride in one’s appearance, qualities, abilities, achievements, etc.;
    character or quality of being vain; conceit: Failure to be elected was a
    great blow to his vanity.
    2.an instance or display of this quality or feeling.
    3.something about which one is vain.
    4. lack of real value; hollowness; worthlessness: the vanity of a selfish life.
    5.something worthless, trivial, or pointless

  • lewr2

    Nobody’s trying to prove their anything is is superior to anyone else. We’re asking that we not have to pay for your abortions. Pay for them on your own brother. If you want to support them pay out of your pocket to whomever you please. The problem is that YOU only want your way. While I’m not happy to give you your way which is to murder babies, at this point, you have that option. Give us OURS. Is that too hard for you to understand?

  • Jim Reed

    To a Christian it would seem counter, but that is because they see Christian vanity as humility, and that is why they feel superior.

  • Jim Reed

    If we want socialized health care, we have to do what is best for the nation. Religions can’t be given a line item veto over what is covered.

  • lewr2

    I guess you have to WANT socialized medicine don’t you Jim. I specifically do not want socialized medicine. I’d rather you take care of yourself and your family on your own dime and I’ll take care of my family on my dime.

    Or, I can get together with people of LIKE mind, who don’t want specific things covered, and you can do the same. So, if you want to get together with a group of people who think sex change operations are just fine and dandy…. go for it.

    However, I do not want to support sex change operations of anyone, so I shouldn’t have to pay for your desire of sex change operations.

    Nobody else should have to pay for someone who is obese and doesn’t want to change. Yet… that’s what you’re asking everyone to do.

    The biggest problem is that people who think it’s perfectly ok to force others to pay for things they don’t agree with. And, there is no business of the federal govt. to even be involved in this issue to begin with.

    If I don’t want car insurance, I don’t buy a car. However, you are supporting the tyrannical position that everyone should have to purchase something and then on top of that, pay for your decisions.

    See, it’s really a pretty easily understood argument. You pay for what YOU want, I PAY for what I want.