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.