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Trump order protects 'freedom to discriminate' against LGBT people

08 October 2017

On Friday morning the administration followed through on two promises made in President Donald Trump's May 4 executive order on religious liberty - relief from the HHS mandate for religious and conscientious objectors, and a Department of Justice guidance to federal agencies on implementing religious freedom protections found in existing federal law.

Pedro Portal/TNS/NewscomToday, as President Donald Trump's administration is announcing that employers with religious concerns will have an easier time getting exemptions from the birth control mandate, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has released a lengthy memo describing the Justice Department's approach to religious freedom.

The new guidance says that the government can not place an undue burden on people or businesses because "the free exercise of religion includes the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one's religious beliefs".

Numerous current conflicts in the religious sphere concern civil rights for lesbians, gays and transgender people _ for instance, whether religious organizations can refuse to employ people due to their sexual identification.

Religious liberty expert Robin Fretwell Wilson says the memo could force agencies to re-think their protections on sexual orientation and gender identity. Every American has a right to believe, worship, and exercise their faith.

Unsurprisingly, the DOJ's directive was met with effusive praise by right-wing lawmakers and religious organizations, and fierce condemnation by civil rights groups that argue the Sessions memo constitutes little more than a "license to discriminate" against the LGBTQ community.

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He added: "It's unconscionable that the Trump-Pence administration also today encouraged employers to exert control over the essential health care decisions of their employees". Since then, religious conservatives have anxiously awaited the Justice Department guidance, hoping for greatly strengthened protections for their beliefs amid the rapid acceptance of LGBT rights.

Critics said the guidance could result in LGBT individuals, women or others facing discrimination in federal programs. The administration's new guidance also downplays harm to innocent third parties by someone acting on their religious belief.

- Rescinding guidance protecting transgender students and replacing it with guidance that allows schools to discriminate against them.

Today's guidance by Jeff Sessions proves this Administration will do anything possible to categorize LGBTQ Americans as second-class citizens who are not equal under the law. Adoption agencies could legally refuse to provide services to same-sex couples or even serve LGBTQ foster children. It also says the government can not enforce the so-called Johnson Amendment, which threatens to strip tax-exempt status from religious groups that engaged in political advocacy. Additionally, (#19) religious employers have the right to hire only individuals who agree with that religious faith, and (#20) the federal government may not require an organization to set aside any of its religious-liberty rights as a condition for getting any grant or benefit. The Justice Department is now taking the position that federal civil rights laws do not include gay and transgender discrimination under the aegis of sex-based discrimination.

"The government may be able to meet that [legal] standard with respect to race discrimination. but may not be able to with respect to other forms of discrimination", Sessions' memo says.

Rebecca Isaacs, Executive Director of the Equality Federation, said the latest memo was a "an attack on the values of freedom and fairness that make this nation great". The principle was also at play earlier this year, when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Lutheran church that was seeking to make safety improvements on its playground through a state reimbursement program. "We urge the federal courts to reject the radical efforts by this administration to justify discrimination on the basis of religion". "A license to discriminate goes against our core American values and I fear that the guidance the Justice Department issued today is not created to help agencies comply with the law, but rather to give them greater leeway to condone discrimination against LGBTQ people, women and others".

Trump order protects 'freedom to discriminate' against LGBT people