(Photo: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE)
Conservative groups have denounced the recently signed executive order by President Barack Obama on LGBT employment discrimination, arguing that the measure does not offer sufficient religious liberty protection.
Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for Policy Studies at the Family Research Council, said in a statement that with the executive order "Obama has ordered employers to put aside their principles, and practices in the name of political correctness."
"This level of coercion is nothing less than viewpoint blackmail that bullies into silence every contractor and subcontractor who has moral objections to homosexual behavior," stated Sprigg.
"This order gives activists a license to challenge their employers and, expose those employers to threats of costly legal proceedings and the potential of jeopardizing future contracts."
Dr. Russell Moore, president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said in a statement that the executive order "violates" freedom of religious conscience.
"While we don't know the full implications of this executive order, I am disappointed that this administration persistently violates the freedom of conscience for religious organizations that provide necessary relief for the poor and endangered," said Moore.
"The same religious convictions that inspire their social action are the convictions now considered outside the new mainstream of sexual revolutionary fundamentalism. The ones hurt will be the most vulnerable in our society."
Weeks after announcing his intention of doing so, on Monday morning Obama signed an executive order barring employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity among businesses that have federal contracts.
The executive order came in response to the defeat of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in Congress, which passed the Senate but was not taken up by the House of Representatives.
"Millions of our fellow citizens wake up and go to work with the awareness that they could lose their job, not because of anything they do or fail to do, but because of who they are," stated Obama before the press.
"Now, this executive order is part of a long bipartisan tradition. President Roosevelt signed an order prohibiting racial discrimination in the national defense industry. President Eisenhower strengthened it. President Johnson expanded it. Today, I'm going to expand it again."
Various groups, including supporters of the administration, called upon Obama to include a strong religious exemption as part of the executive order.
One letter calling for a strong exemption was signed by the likes of Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren, Christianity Today Executive Editor Andy Crouch, and Q Ideas President Gabe Lyons.
"Religious organizations, because of their religious faith, have served their nation well for centuries, as you have acknowledged and supported time and time again. We hope that religious organizations can continue to do so, on equal footing with others, in the future," read the letter in part.
"A religious exemption in your executive order on LGBT employment rights would allow for this, balancing the government's interest in protecting both LGBT Americans, as well as the religious organizations that seek to serve in accordance with their faith and values."
According to a White House fact sheet, Obama's executive order will maintain certain exceptions to the antidiscrimination mandate.
"President Obama's Executive Order does not allow for any exemption beyond the one added by Executive Order 13279, issued by President George W. Bush, which permits religiously affiliated contractors to favor individuals of a particular religion when making employment decisions," read the fact sheet webpage.
"In addition, under the First Amendment, religious entities are permitted to make employment decisions about their ministers as they see fit."
The executive order also "governs only federal contractors and federally-assisted construction contractors and subcontractors who do over $10,000 in Government business in one year."
"It does not affect grants and President Obama's Executive Order does not impact the administration of federal grants," continued the White House.
Various progressive organizations hailed the news that Obama's ENDA-based executive order lacked a strong religious exemption.
The Reverend Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, stated that "No forms of discrimination should be supported with the taxpayer dime."
"Religious groups have no right to accept taxpayer money and engage in rank forms of discrimination," said Lynn.
"Faith-based groups that tap the public purse should play by the same rules as everyone else and not expect special treatment."
Michael De Dora, director of the Office of Public Policy for the Center for Inquiry, said in a statement that his organization "applauded" the absence of the broad religious exemption.
"We are especially relieved and encouraged that the president has chosen not to bend once again to the enormous pressure applied by religious interests, but has recognized that, at the very least, taxpayer funded work must never be done under the shadow of discrimination," said De Dora.
"While there is still room for improvement in this new order … they are a welcome step in the right direction, toward a secular government in which religion can't be used as a shield for prejudice and unequal treatment."