Piggybacking on the Hobby Lobby ruling, another group of faith leaders is urging President Obama to include broad exemptions for religious employers in an executive order he plans to issue barring anti-LGBT discrimination by federal contractors.
Fourteen religious leaders sent a letter to Obama Tuesday asking him to ensure that a broad religious exemption similar to that contained in the current version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is included in the executive order he is preparing to sign that will prohibit contractors doing more than $10,000 worth of business with the federal government from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The most prominent signee is megachurch pastor Rick Warren, who gave the invocation at Obama's first inauguration but has since criticized some of the president's actions, saying they infringe on religious liberty.
The letter argues that the Hobby Lobby ruling indicates that the federal government should be giving more deference to religious organizations that do not wish to employ LGBT people because it conflicts with their religious values. This week the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that closely held corporations can decline to provide coverage for birth control in the health care plans they offer to their female employees if the coverage would violate the owners' religious beliefs.
This comes on the heels of another letter sent to President Obama last week which was signed by more than 100 religious leaders asking him to "respect this vital element of religious freedom" by exempting religiously affiliated groups from adhering to the LGBT antidiscrimination protections contained in the executive order President Obama has announced he is planning to sign.
One of the reasons Obama is issuing the order is that Congress has failed to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The U.S. Senate passed the bill last year, but it has not been taken up by the House, and Speaker John Boehner has said that he has no intention of allowing a vote on it in that chamber of Congress.
U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, one of the ten Republican senators to vote in favor of ENDA in November, has also indicated his desire to see such an exemption included in any ENDA-type executive order that the president may sign.
“While the specifics of this executive order are not yet clear, I believe it must include the same religious protections that are included in the bipartisan Employment Non-Discrimination Act that passed the Senate,” Hatch told the Washington Blade last month. “ENDA strikes a good balance to ensure that discrimination based on sexual orientation will not be tolerated, but also that one of our nation’s fundamental freedoms — religious freedom — is still upheld. The same must be said for any Obama Administration initiative on this issue.”
The White House has not yet released the text of these orders, nor have administration officials indicated whether or not such an exemption will be included in the executive order or when the president intends to sign it. The president is also planning to issue another executive order that will protect transgender federal employees from discrimination.
Read the full text of the letter below.