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Demonstrators protest upcoming Trump “religious liberty” order

Rumors of a "religious freedom" executive order sparked protests outside the White House

Photo: John Riley

On Wednesday afternoon, demonstrators gathered opposite the White House, to protest an executive order that would permit discrimination against the LGBTQ community and others.

President Trump is expected to sign the executive order, which has been billed as a way to guarantee “religious liberty,” on Thursday as part of the National Day of Prayer.

Trump has consistently promised religious leaders and Republican voters that he supports measures to allow them to refuse services to others if providing those services would violate their religious beliefs.

In addition to LGBTQ activists, the rally also attracted pro-LGBTQ religious allies and advocates for abortion rights.

“Our laws do not allow the use of religious beliefs to harm others. It is wrong to let government actors or officials pick and choose who they will serve based on their own personal religious beliefs,” Julianna Ronen, policy director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said at the rally.

“One set of far-right religious beliefs cannot be imposed on all or dictate whom we love and marry; whether, when, and how we have children; or what we can do or who we can be based on our sex or gender,” she added. “We have not come this far to let one man take us backward with one stroke of a pen.”

Equality advocates were particularly incensed at the prospect of the religious liberty executive order, viewing it as just the latest in a string of actions that signal disrespect for or hostility towards the LGBTQ community.

Photo: John Riley

“This administration has chosen the side of prejudice and intolerance time and again,” Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, director of external relations at the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in prepared remarks. “From the President’s radical appointees like Mark Green, Jeff Sessions, and Charmaine Yoest, to the signing of one sweeping and shameful executive order after another, he has attempted to establish a hierarchy where the rights of some are greater than the rights of others.

“With this impending executive order, President Trump continues to demonstrate a clear failure to comprehend our democracy as prescribed by the Constitution, as well as a fundamental value of our nation: equal rights and justice for all,” she added. “There can be no justice when some choose to forsake their duties and choose persecution over service; or when others can be fired or denied lifesaving services because of who they are.”

The rally also attracted members of Congress, including U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who announced on Tuesday that he was reintroducing the Senate version of the Equality Act, which would provide the LGBTQ community with protections from discrimination in a host of areas, including employment, housing, and public accommodations.

Photo: John Riley

“We have a 1964 Civil Rights Act that says no to discrimination against individuals based on their race. It says no to discrimination based on gender. It says no to discrimination based on ethnicity,” Merkley said. “And yet here we have today a president about to put forward a dictate that is directed exactly at increasing discrimination.

“This is a dark moment for freedom in America. It’s a dark moment for equality in America. It’s a dark moment for opportunity,” Merkley added. “Let’s instead sweep this moment away and pass the Equality Act. … Here we are fighting a large sweep backwards, in which a president is going to lead the charge to establish a full spectrum of discrimination and hate across America. We must oppose it with everything we have.”

Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, also criticized Trump, arguing that the rationale behind issuing the order is flawed.

“There is nothing religious about discrimination. There is nothing religious about discriminating against someone because of who they are, who God made them,” Griffin said. “That’s a misuse and abuse of religion.

Photo: John Riley

“Donald Trump promised to be a president for all Americans. But a president for All Americans cannot advance an executive order that would allow healthcare providers to refuse to treat to LGBTQ patients, that would allow child welfare organizations to deny children a loving home, that would allow government employees to turn away LGBTQ people simply because of who they are, or that would undermine the rights of women, religious minorities, and communities of color,” Griffin added. “A president for all Americans cannot wave a rainbow flag while nominating extremists to run the government for him.”

Griffin called on the president to reverse course, as he did earlier in February after the language of the proposed draft executive order was leaked. And Griffin warned that the fallout from signing the order would be much greater than the White House might expect.

“We have all come too far, fought too hard, and accomplished too much to allow anyone to drag us backwards,” he said. “We stand unified today, we stand unified tomorrow, and when Donald Trump attacks any one of us, he is going to keep hearing from all of us.”

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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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