Faith Group Leaders to Obama: Protect Religious Freedom in LGBT Workplace Discrimination Order

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the Democratic National Committee's (DNC) annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) gala in New York June 17, 2014.
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the Democratic National Committee's (DNC) annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) gala in New York June 17, 2014. | (Photo: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE)

A group of about 140 religious leaders and religious freedom advocates signed a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to include an exemption for faith-based groups in his pending executive order protecting LGBT government contract workers from discrimination.

Religious organizations contract with the federal government to provide vital services, the letter points out, such as overseas relief and development with USAID, prison programs for the Bureau of Prisons, and research, services and technical assistance for numerous other federal government departments. Many of these religious organizations require their staff to agree to a set of religious beliefs and maintain conduct consistent with those beliefs.

An executive order on workplace discrimination against LGBT individuals that did not include a religious exemption could force religious groups that believe marriage is only between one man and one woman, and that homosexuality is a sin, to choose between ending those services or abandoning their religious beliefs.

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"These organizations often are the best-qualified applicants for federal contracts or subcontracts," the letter states. "It would be counterproductive to bar them from offering their services to the federal government simply because of their legally protected religious convictions; it would be wrong to require them to violate those legally protected convictions in order to be eligible to receive federal contracts. Their exclusion from federal contracting would be diametrically opposed to the Administration's commitment to having 'all hands on deck' in the fight against poverty and other dire social problems."

The letter clarifies that there is not agreement among the signers on whether there should be such an executive order, but there is agreement among all the signers, which include liberals and conservatives, that if Obama does issue the order, there should be an exemption for religious organizations.

The White House announced last week that an executive order will be coming soon on LGBT workplace discrimination for federal contractors. The White House has not said, however, whether there will be a religious exemption. Some experts believe that gay rights activists are pressuring the administration to not include the exemption.

Last year, 61 U.S. Senators voted in favor of a bill, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, that would have prohibited employment and hiring discrimination based upon sexual orientation or gender identity for all employers. That bill had a religious exemption. The House, though, announced it would not vote on the legislation. The letter suggests that Obama adopt some of the religious exemption language from that Senate bill.

The letter also points out that there is a religious exemption in the 1964 Civil Rights Act and that Obama left intact an executive order that clarifies that groups claiming a religious exemption under the 1964 Civil Rights Act are eligible to be federal contractors or subcontractors.

The letter was organized by the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, whose founder and president, Stanley Carlson-Theis, served in the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives under President George W. Bush.

Some of the religious leaders who signed the letter include: Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Christian Hispanic Leadership Conference and Hispanic Evangelical Association; Ron Sider, president emeritus of Evangelicals for Social Action; Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland-A Church Distributed; Stephan Bauman, president and CEO of World Relief; Franklin Graham, president and CEO of Samaritan's Purse and The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association; Keith Wiebe, president of the American Association of Christian Schools, and George Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

The letter was also signed by the presidents of numerous Christian colleges, including Colorado Christian University, Houghton College, Biola University, Calvin College, Moody Bible Institute, and Denver Seminary. (They signed for themselves, not to speak on behalf of the college or university.)

Additionally, the list includes religious freedom experts in academia, such as, Carl H. Esbeck, R.B. Price Professor and Isabelle Wade & Paul C. Lyda Professor of Law at the University of Missouri; Richard W. Garnett, Professor of Law and Concurrent Professor of Political Science at Notre Dame; Douglas Laycock, Robert E. Scott Distinguished Professor of Law at University of Virginia Law School; Michael McConnell, Richard & Frances Mallery Professor of Law and director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School; Dr. Stephen V. Monsma, senior research fellow at Calvin College's Paul Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics; and Thomas F. Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project for the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University.

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