100 Religious Leaders to Obama: No Religious Exemption in ENDA Executive Order

One hundred religious leaders from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and interfaith organizations have signed a letter to President Obama, asking that he not include a religious exemption in a forthcoming executive order barring hiring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation by federal contractors.

The letter states, in part (emphasis mine):

In our democratic nation, we believe that public service—especially when it is directly supported by the federal government and our tax dollars—must be aligned with the Constitutional principle that all people deserve equal treatment under the law. Requiring all federal contractors to operate according to the same set of non-discriminatory hiring practices is more than fair; it is a critical safeguard that protects all parties. If contractors were allowed to selectively follow employment or other laws according to their religious beliefs, we would quickly create an untenable morass of legal disputes. Furthermore, if selective exemptions to the  executive order were permitted, the people who would suffer most would be the people who always suffer  most when discrimination is allowed: the individuals and communities that are already marginalized. Increasing the obstacles faced by those at the margins is precisely the opposite of what public service can and should do, and is precisely the opposite of the values we stand for as people of faith.

As I reported last week, a group of 14 faith leaders — led by former Obama staffer turned religious consultant Michael Wear, and signed by several large faith-based government contractors — called on Obama to include a religious exemption. BuzzFeed’s Chris Geidner reported that Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, had a similar letter in progress but had not sent it, appearing to waffle and backtrack when contacted by a reporter about it. “I was trying to help the president and his team by sharing what I was hearing out there, and how we could find — if we could find — some good balances and some common ground that would achieve, as a top White House official said to me last week, could achieve the right balance between LGBT protections and respecting religious liberty. Both are goals that I have, that the president has, and that I think we have to find if we’re going to go forward here,” Wallis told Geidner.

Last week the Rev. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance and one of the signers of today’s letter, said, “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.”

Today’s letter warns, “An executive order that allows for religious discrimination against LGBT people contradicts the order’s fundamental purpose, as well as the belief shared by more and more Americans every day, which is that LGBT people should not be treated as second-class citizens. An exception would set a terrible precedent by denying true equality for LGBT people, while simultaneously opening a Pandora’s Box inviting other forms of discrimination.”