Metro Weekly

Congressional Republicans beg Trump for “religious liberty” executive order

Lawmakers hope for order that will carve out various special exemptions for people who oppose LGBTQ rights

President Donald Trump at CPAC 2017, Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Congressional Republicans have sent a letter to President Trump demanding he issue an oft-rumored anti-LGBTQ executive order.

The “religious liberty” order would allow people, businesses, or nonprofits to avoid any activity that would violate their sincerely held religious beliefs — such as providing goods and services to a same-sex couple.

The letter, obtained by USA Today, asks the president to sign a draft executive order that was previously published by The Nation in February.

Under that order, people with beliefs opposing homosexuality, transgenderism, same-sex marriage, or extramarital sex would be granted special exemptions that allow them to refuse to serve LGBTQ people.

They could also fire or refuse to hire LGBTQ people as employees, deny them employee benefits, or refuse to provide insurance coverage for certain treatments or prescriptions, and still be entitled to receive special tax breaks and government grants or contracts.

The letter from the House members echoes a similar one sent to Trump earlier this month, signed by 18 senators, asking for similar protections for religious objectors.

In the letter, the congressmen say they are pleased with Trump’s support of the First Amendment Defense Act and his promise to sign it into law, but he should not wait for Congress to make the first move in extending such exemptions.

“Because religious liberty is of such importance and under such threat, we believe that the draft executive order should be signed without delay and that all the protections discussed in this letter should be enshrined permanently in our laws,” the Republicans write to Trump.

In February, Trump was reportedly considering reversing an executive order by President Obama that prohibits federal employers or companies that receive federal contracts from discriminating against LGBTQ employees. Trump never signed off on that order, choosing instead to leave the Obama-era protections in place.

However, that same month, Ken Blackwell, a fellow at the Family Research Council and a former domestic adviser to Trump’s transition team, told The Huffington Post’s Michelangelo Signorile that Trump’s staff was redrafting some sort of “religious freedom” executive order.

According to USA Today, the White House is currently trying to find some middle ground between protecting LGBTQ rights and providing sufficient exemptions for people and religiously-affiliated businesses or organizations opposed to equality measures.

The lawmakers also ask Trump to consider signing the Russell Amendment, which was added to (but later removed from) the National Defense Authorization Act last year.

It would effectively reverse the Obama-era order on federal contractors, allowing religiously-affiliated nonprofits to receive taxpayer money while refusing to hire or firing LGBTQ people.

Beyond LGBTQ issues, the lawmakers are also asking for the executive order to eliminate a requirement that employers provide insurance coverage for contraception under the Affordable Care Act, and to allow doctors to refuse to perform abortions based on their religious beliefs.

They also ask Trump to support the Free Speech Fairness Act, legislation that would lift prohibitions currently placed on churches and religious nonprofit organizations regarding their involvement in the political sphere. The act, as introduced, would prevent a church that endorsed a specific political candidate for office from ever being threatened with the loss of its tax-exempt status.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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