LGBT Groups: 'Religious Freedom' Order May Still Be Used to Discriminate

LGBT Groups: 'Religious Freedom' EO May Still Be Used to Discriminate

President Donald Trump signed a "religious freedom" executive order Thursday aimed at making it easier for churches to preach politics and allowing for employers to deny family planning services. 

It was expected that the order would include exemptions from antidiscrimination law for individuals, businesses, and others citing religious objections to serving LGBT people; this expectation came because of a leaked draft of the order published in February by The Nation. The order signed by Trump Thursday did not include those provisions, but some LGBT groups say that it doesn't mean it is safe to celebrate this as a win.

Particularly troublesome is this language: "In order to guide all agencies in complying with relevant Federal law, the Attorney General shall, as appropriate, issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in Federal law." 

The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network remains "deeply concerned" about the order, "both in its substance and its hints to what lies ahead," according to a statement released by the group. "Such language suggests President Trump is eager to continue finding ways to provide religious exemptions, possibly for individuals and companies, and create a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people," wrote GLSEN executive director Eliza Byard.

"Clearly our partners of religious faith and the American people understand that President Trump’s actions today undermine the fundamentally American separation of church and state, and, of great concern to GLSEN specifically, empowers certain institutions within the faith community that have been overtly and aggressively hostile to the rights and wellbeing of LGBTQ youth," Byard added.

Pride at Work, a nonprofit that represents LGBT union members and allies, said that while it was important that the anti-LGBT provisions were not included in the order, "some pretty awful stuff remains that will impact our community." 

“Trump’s plan to give religious institutions a pass to enter the political fray is fraught with danger. Churches should not be empowered to run campaigns against LGBTQ people, women’s healthcare, and more without putting their tax exempt status in jeopardy. That’s a violation of the founding principle of separation of church and state," said Jerame Davis, Pride at Work's executive director, in a statement. 

Added Human Rights Campaign legal director Sarah Warbelow: “Donald Trump just let the fox into the hen house. Through this Executive Order, Trump has directed Attorney General Jeff Sessions — a man who has denied LGBTQ people equality under the law — to seek a license to discriminate across all areas of the government. This order is incredibly alarming, particularly for millions of LGBTQ people and women across the nation who are among those most frequently subjected to discrimination under the guise of religion. We are watching and we will challenge any effort by Jeff Sessions or other agencies of Trump’s Administration to license discrimination.”

And PFLAG National released a statement reading in part, "In signing this so-called 'religious liberty' order, the president has essentially granted broad permission to discriminate, and ceded enormous power to unelected officials to interpret regulation and current law. We are deeply concerned that rights and protections for people from marginalized communities will be even further subject to the whims of others’ personal ideology controlling their lives, a concept entirely antithetical to the values of freedom and dignity our nation holds dear."

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