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Interfaith Leaders Ask Obama to Not Include Religious Exemption in Executive Order

by Bobby McGuire
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Jul 9, 2014

On Tuesday, 100 religious leaders from Christian, Jewish, Muslim and interfaith organizations signed a letter to President Barack Obama, asking him to not include a religious exemption in the executive order he plans to enact that will bar workplace discrimination against LGBT individuals.

The letter in part reads:

Dear Mr. President:

As faith and civic leaders dedicated to affirming the sacred dignity and equal worth of every person, we are grateful for your upcoming executive order ending discrimination against LGBT people in hiring by federal contractors. We urge you not to include a religious exemption in the executive order. In keeping with the principle that our government must adhere to the highest standards of ethics and fairness in its own operations, we believe that public dollars should not be used to sanction discrimination.
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.
..we believe ensuring that federal contractors do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in their hiring helps to reduce the likelihood that these contractors will discriminate against clients or other parties in the provision of services. [...] We believe that the best way to eliminate discrimination at one level is to reduce discrimination at all levels.

The letter comes nearly two weeks after the conservative religious right-wing Institute for Religious Freedom Alliance (IRFA) organized over 100 religious leaders to sign onto a letter urging President Obama to allow for businesses with government contracts who claim religious affiliation to be exempt from the LGBT nondiscrimination executive order.

The letter organized by IRFA sent June 25, in part read:

Dear Mr. President:

As leaders and supporters of faith-based service organizations, we ask that you include explicit religious freedom protections in any executive order providing nondiscrimination guarantees for LGBT employees of federal contractors. [...] Any executive order that does not fully protect religious freedom will face widespread opposition and will further fragment our nation.

Our requests are grounded in the historical context of strong federal legal protections for religious organizations' hiring practices. Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as upheld by a unanimous Supreme Court, religious organizations are free to consider religion when deciding who is most qualified to join their respective staffs. They are free under Title VII to maintain a conduct standard that reflects their religions' sincerely held beliefs, which include deep
convictions about human sexuality.

IFRA's letter called for religious exemption language in the executive order that would allow for contractors doing business with the federal government to fire, refuse to hire or deny promotions to LGBT persons based upon the religious beliefs of the company. The letter also suggested the addition of a non-retaliation clause in the executive order that would make it impossible for LGBT employees who believe they were discriminated against to seek legal action and monetary damages.

The base language that IFRA suggests in their letter to President Obama closely mirrors the religious exemption language in the version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed in 2013 by the Senate.

This week, the ACLU and six major LGBT rights organizations that included Lambda Legal and the National Lesbian and Gay Task Force, withdrew their support for ENDA over the inclusion of the religious exemption. The bill is currently stalled in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives where it is not expected to be put up for a vote.


  • Wayne M., 2014-07-11 22:11:31

    I am glad to see this article about an action on the part of religious leaders, including Christians who do not support the religious right. The fact is that there are many authentic Christian and other religious leaders who realize that while it is essential to protect religious rights, such protection should be equal to the protection given all groups and individuals, not take precedence over the rights of other groups and individuals.

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