Pressure Grows on Obama to Reject Anti-LGBT Religious Exemption

Sixty-nine faith, civil rights, women’s, LGBT, secular, and other organizations sent a letter to President Obama this afternoon, urging him not to include a religious exemption in his planned executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT people in employment.

The letter, signed by diverse faith groups including Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh organizations, says that “taxpayer-funded discrimination, in any guise, is antithetical to basic American values,” noting that since 1941, both Republican and Democratic presidents have “made an enduring commitment to eradicating taxpayer-funded discrimination in the workplace.” These executive orders “paved the way for the enactment of scores of federal and state civil rights statutes that prohibit discrimination, especially by recipients of government funds,” and have never included a religious exemption, the letter says.

That changed under the presidency of George W. Bush, who, in enacting Executive Order 13279, created an exemption permitting religiously-affiliated contractors to discriminate based on religion. The letter reiterates calls made since 2011 for Obama to rescind the Bush executive order.

Today’s letter, in contrast to yesterday’s letter from over 50 legal scholars, is more focused on framing religious freedom as a core American value that is protected, rather than endangered, by rejecting the religious exemption. The legal scholars focused more on constitutional law and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in making the case that neither Free Exercise Clause nor RFRA require an exemption to preserve religious liberty. In addition to the religious organizations, today’s letter was signed by an array of civil rights and liberties groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and the NAACP.

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

  • GeniusPhx

    during the constitutional convention someone brought up article 6, the no religious test for public office clause. a small few thought it should be a christian only test, but that was quickly voted down in committee because ‘that would discriminate against too many people’. (what they meant by christian was protestant).

    by giving us a secular constitution their intent was clear, that we have a secular government with secular laws. this SCOTUS has breached that wall of separation to a more serious degree than anyone before. that is what led to even the consideration of discrimination in the name of god.

  • pennyjane

    i repeat…any law or policy that exempts the very ones who provoke the need for the law or policy is an exercise in futility….nothing more than background noise.

  • Shrdlu42

         I don’t know where you got your history from, but the reasons for keeping the No Religious Test Clause “as is” had nothing to do with Christianity being deemed solely Protestant. Actually, there were two main arguments in support of the Clause: one secular and the other religious.

         The secular argument was that religious tests actually produce the opposite of what their supporters contended. Instead of insuring a government of good, moral, people, they were an invitation to hypocrisy. Only people for whom religion (and honesty) meant something would be barred by such tests. Those who lusted for power, and didn’t give a fig about religion, could pass any religious test created. “Paris is worth a Mass”, as an heir to the French throne was supposed to have said when required to end his support for the Huguenots (French Protestants). Do we really want a government composed of people who decided “Washington is worth a Cross”? The Founders wisely said no.

         The religious argument is one of my favorite quotes on the subject of Church/State separation.

    . . . nothing is more evident, both in reason, and in the holy scriptures, than that religion is ever a matter between God and individuals and therefore no man or men can impose any religious test, without invading the essential prerogatives of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    – Reverend Isaac Backus, The Debate on the Constitution – Part One (The Library of America, 1993), Page 931 (emphasis added).

         There you have it, the Christian argument for separation of Church and State.

  • Shrdlu42

         Speaking of noise, that makes no sense at all.