UPDATE: White House officials said the draft is among hundreds of orders circulating, some within the administration and some even among outside groups, ABC News reports. "Not all reflect administration thinking or likely policy," the network continues. "One official did not say who drafted this potential order, but did not dispute its authenticity."
"We do not have plans to sign anything at this time but will let you know when we have any updates," White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told ABC Wednesday night.
The National Prayer Breakfast passed Thursday morning without an announcement of the order, but President Trump did vow to protect religious freedom, with a promise to reverse the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits tax-exempt religious groups from endorsing or opposing political candidates.
GLAAD plans a rally against the draft order Thursday night at the Stonewall Inn in New York City.
A draft of an anti-LGBT “religious freedom” executive order is circulating among federal government agencies, as rumors swirl that Donald Trump may unveil it at the National Prayer Breakfast Thursday.
The president Monday backed off on reversing President Obama’s executive order barring companies with federal government contracts from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. But the draft order, obtained by The Nation and the Investigative Fund, would provide corporations and nonprofits a broad license to use religious dogma as a justification for discrimination, much like the First Amendment Defense Act now pending in Congress, which Trump has said he would sign if it passed.
“The four-page draft order, a copy of which is currently circulating among federal staff and advocacy organizations, construes religious organizations so broadly that it covers ‘any organization, including closely held for-profit corporations,’ and protects ‘religious freedom” in every walk of life: ‘when providing social services, education, or healthcare; earning a living, seeking a job, or employing others; receiving government grants or contracts; or otherwise participating in the marketplace, the public square, or interfacing with Federal, State or local governments,’” The Nation reports.
“The draft order seeks to create wholesale exemptions for people and organizations who claim religious or moral objections to same-sex marriage, premarital sex, abortion, and trans identity, and it seeks to curtail women’s access to contraception and abortion through the Affordable Care Act,” the magazine continues.
The order would, for instance, allow adoption or foster-care agencies that receive federal funds to discriminate against LGBT parents or children, without repercussions, Jenny Pizer, senior counsel and law and policy director for Lambda Legal, told The Nation. Or federal employees, such those who work for the Social Security Administration or Department of Veterans Affairs, could conceivably “refuse on religious grounds to process applications or respond to questions from those whose benefits depend on same-sex marriages,” Ira Lupu, a professor emeritus at the George Washington University Law School, told the publication.
Such an order would likely run afoul of the U.S. Constitution, according to Lupu and others, in privileging one set of religious beliefs over others. It may violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits the federal government from establishing a religion, Lupu said. Tiven said it reminds her of the Mississippi “license to discriminate” law that was struck down by a federal court last year because it violated the Establishment Clause as well as the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, guaranteeing all Americans equal protection of the laws. That decision is currently on appeal.
Even before the draft order circulated, there were rumors that Trump would use the prayer breakfast to announce some sort of “license to discriminate” order. The annual event will be held Thursday morning at the Washington Hilton, and 3,000 people from more than 130 countries — and a diverse selection of faiths — are expected to attend.
LGBT groups were quick to condemn the draft. “If anything in this document were to become federal law, it would be a national license to discriminate, and it would endanger LGBTQ people and their families,” said GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis in an emailed statement. “Freedom of religion does not mean the freedom to discriminate. If the Trump administration moves forward with any of these unconstitutional and un-American policies, the chorus of public outcry will get even louder while the president’s approval ratings continue to crumble.”
“Donald Trump claimed on Monday to be respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights,” said Equality Federation executive director Rebecca Isaacs. “If he signs this leaked executive order it will be clear that he is anything but respectful and supportive. Freedom of religion is a core American value that we all share, and that’s why it is already firmly protected by our constitution. This staggeringly broad executive order would single out LGBTQ people and give a license to discriminate. It is unfair and out of step with the belief a majority of Americans share, that all of us should have a fair opportunity to provide for ourselves and our families without fear of discrimination.”
Added Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality: “Make no mistake: this shameful, sweeping, and unconstitutional order would be about firing people and denying them health care and other government services simply because of who they are. It is about federal officials refusing to do their jobs if it involves helping people they don't like. It is about federal grantees turning away people who are homeless, hungry, or in danger because they are transgender. Taxpayer dollars should not come with a free pass to discriminate. If this draft order or anything remotely like it is issued, President Trump will have once again shown he stands on the side of discrimination, this time against the 10 million Americans who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, including over 1.4 million transgender adults. This is our country too.”