Republicans in Congress are using defense funding to help pass a "religious freedom" law through Congress.
The House Armed Services Committee on Thursday approved a "religious freedom" amendment to the defense authorization bill. It would undo an executive order from President Obama that prohibits government contractors from engaging in anti-LGBT discrimination against their employees.
The amendment, introduced by Rep. Steve Russell, could be compared to the "religious freedom" laws that caused outrage in Indiana, Arizona, Georgia and elsewhere. In this case, it would limit the federal government to protecting only those groups now named in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the American with Disabilities act, reports the Washington Blade. Neither of those laws protect LGBT people from discrimination, therefore Russell's amendment would allow religious organizations doing business with the U.S. government to fire or punish any employee based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Polls often show that Americans mistakenly believe discrimination against LGBT people is already illegal. To add federal protection for sexual orientation and gender identity in employment and numerous other areas, activists have backed the Equality Act, a bill which would amend the Civil Rights Act. But that idea is stalled in the Republican-controlled Congress.
Both Obama and Hillary Clinton, plus Bernie Sanders, have backed the Equality Act. And even Republican frontrunner Donald Trump had said in 2000 that he supports amending the Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation, though he hasn't expressed support for the Equality Act.
Russell's amendment allows exemptions for “any religious corporation, religious association, religious educational institution or religious society” contracting with the U.S. government, reports the Blade. The bill does not define what "religious corporation" means exactly, and the Blade's Chris Johnson reports that this "could allow courts to construe the term broadly to any federal contractor — not just religious organizations."
“Rep. Russell’s harmful amendment would strip away existing protections for LGBT workers by undermining President Obama’s executive order on LGBT non-discrimination protections in federal contracting,” said HRC's Government Affairs Director, David Stacy, in a statement. “Evidently some House Republicans want to emulate their state legislative colleagues in undermining legal protections for LGBT Americans. House Republican Leadership must get this language out of the bill.”
The next opportunity to remove the amendment from the defense bill comes when the full House examines it. But if the amendment passes through the full House, it would become part of discussion by the conference comittee that reconciles the House and Senate versions.