Donald Trump’s “religious freedom” executive order — actually a license to discriminate against LGBT people and others — is still very much alive and on its way, according to a member of Trump’s transition team. And the White House press secretary dropped more strong hints about it Monday afternoon.
An attorney who worked on the order is “in the process of redrafting it” in hopes that it will stand up to judicial scrutiny, Ken Blackwell told Michelangelo Signorile over the weekend. Blackwell, a former Ohio secretary of state, was domestic policy chair for the Trump transition effort.
A draft of the order was leaked earlier this month, as first reported by The Nation. It would allow businesses, nonprofits, and even government employees to refuse service to people who offend their religious beliefs about such subjects as marriage, abortion, premarital sex, and gender identity. White House staffers haven’t actually confirmed or denied the order’s existence, saying only that many proposed orders are circulating in the administration.
But at this afternoon's press briefing, a reporter asked White House spokesman Sean Spicer about the report, and he said he expects the administration will soon "have something," according to the Washington Blade.
The renewed attention to the order originated when Blackwell was interviewed by Signorile for his Sirius XM radio show. Blackwell said the order is definitely under consideration and is being redrafted by the attorney who worked on the original — Ken Kuklowski, former director of Family Research Council’s Center for Religious Liberty. Kuklowski is now a senior attorney with another far-right group, the Liberty First Institute, and a contributor to the Breitbart website. He was a legal adviser to the Trump transition team, and it was in that role that he created the order.
“In the final analysis, what we want is an executive order that will meet the scrutiny of the judicial process,” Blackwell told Signorile, who summarized the radio interview in a Huffington Post article. “If there is no executive order, that will disappoint [social conservatives]. But a good executive order will not. So we’re still in the process.”
“I think small business owners who hold a religious belief that believes that traditional marriage is between one man and one woman should not have their religious liberty trampled upon,” Blackwell continued. “I would imagine that that will be, strongly and clearly, the anchor concept [of the order].”
The order would accomplish the same goals as the First Amendment Defense Act, currently pending in Congress, which Trump has said he would sign into law if it reaches his desk. Similar legislation has been passed in a few states but has always brought backlash. When Mike Pence, now vice president, was governor of Indiana, he signed such a measure into law, but it had to be amended after public outcry. The same thing happened with legislation passed in Arkansas, while a “license to discriminate” law in Mississippi has been blocked by a federal court.
When Signorile asked Kuklowski about the order, the lawyer said he could not comment about that action specifically because of his role on the transition team. Kuklowski did say, however, that Trump is aware there’s a “war on Christianity” in the U.S. and is determined to address it.
"And I’m confident that the president is showing ― much to the shock of many establishment people who said, There’s no way this’ll happen ― that he keeps his promises, even when they’re things that an establishment player would never do," Kuklowski added. "And I’m confident that he’s going to keep his promise when it comes to protection of religious liberty as well."
At this afternoon's press briefing, a reporter for The Daily Signal, a conservative news site operated by the Heritage Foundation, asked Spicer if a "religious freedom" order is still in the works and if it would extend beyond Trump's promise to repeal the Johnson Amendment, a law that bars churches from endorsing candidates, the Blade reports.
“I think we’ve discussed executive orders in the past, and for the most part, we’re not going to get into discussing what may or may not come until we’re ready to announce it,” Spicer said. “So, I’m sure as we move forward we’ll have something.”
“It wasn’t immediately clear whether the ‘something’ to which Spicer was referring was an actual executive order or a statement on a policy position for the way forward,” the Blade notes.
If such an order is announced, it should not surprise anyone, Human Rights Campaign spokeswoman Olivia Dalton told the Washington paper. “Donald Trump and Mike Pence have repeatedly threatened the LGBTQ community, and by their own admission this ‘license to discriminate’ order has been circulating for weeks,” Dalton said. “No one should be surprised — their despicable attack on transgender kids last week showed just how low they’re willing to go.”