President Donald Trump is considering issuing an executive order than would allow people to discriminate based on religious beliefs and values.
Such an order “is a charter for widespread and divisive discrimination, against LGBTQ people and frankly against everyone. It is designed to destroy lives and roll back fundamental rights,” the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Force said in a statement Feb. 1.
ABC News obtained a copy of the four-page draft order and reported that it also would allow companies to refuse to provide contraceptive coverage as part of employee health plans, as well as permit tax-exempt entities — such as churches — to engage “on moral or political issues from a religious perspective” without fear of losing their tax status.
According to Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin, the draft order — “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom” — would allow an unprecedented expansion of tax-payer funded discrimination.
“The leaked draft of Donald Trump’s License to Discriminate order is sweeping and dangerous,” Griffin said. “It reads like a wish list from some of the most radical anti-equality activists. If true, it seems this White House is poised to wildly expand anti-LGBTQ discrimination across all facets of the government — even if he does maintain the Obama executive order.”
Griffin was referring to a White House statement saying it would not roll back Obama administration protections for LGBTQ people employed by the federal government or its contractors.
Griffin added, “If Donald Trump goes through with even a fraction of this order, he’ll reveal himself as a true enemy to LGBTQ people. We’ve already seen that the Trump administration is willing to go after women, immigrants, people of color and most frighteningly, people who disagree with him. If this version is true, this could represent another chilling attempt to go after LGBTQ people, federal employees, employees of federal contractors and people served by federal programs funded with taxpayer dollars.”
U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said such an order would go against the Constitution.
“It has long been established that our Constitution protects the free exercise of religion, but those protections do not create the right to cause harm to others,” Nadler said Feb. 1. “Protections for religious freedom must be shields to protect the practice of religion, not swords to enable one person to force his or her religious beliefs on others. No matter how sincerely held a religious belief may be, employers — including the federal government — must not be permitted to wield them as a means of discriminating against their employees or against those they serve.”
The White House statement on Jan. 31 said Trump would keep Obama’s directive protecting LGBTQ employees of federal contractors. “President Trump continues to be respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights, just as he was throughout the election,” it read in part.
However, that assurance from the Trump administration provided no comfort in the wake of a rash of discriminatory executive orders signed by the president in his first weeks in the Oval Office.
More orders may come, as hundreds of draft documents are circulating at the White House, including the “Respect Religious Freedom” order.
Trump’s statement of support for LGBTQ rights, also seems to fly in the face of his actions.
He chose for his vice president Mike Pence, whose political record against LGBT equality goes back years and who, as governor of Indiana, signed legislation to sanction faith-based discrimination.
Trump’s cabinet picks include a mix of right-wing conservatives with anti-gay records and positions, including Jeff Sessions and Betsy DeVos. Neil Gorsuch — his nominee for Supreme Court — sided with the conservative Christian owners of Hobby Lobby, who sued the federal government in 2013 after seeking an exemption from the Affordable Care Acts’ contraception mandate, citing their religious faith.
How much farther a Justice Gorsuch might extend his “Respect Religious Freedom” stance remains to be seen.
Lisa Neff is senior news editor for the Wisconsin Gazette.