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DoJ calls for broad religious exemption interpretation, leading groups speak out
From press releases
2017-10-07

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From National LGBTQ Task Force: We won't stand for it.

WASHINGTON-DC: The Trump-Sessions Department of Justice released guidance this morning calling for broad interpretations of religious exemptions across the federal government.

The following statement can be attributed to Rea Carey, Executive Director, National LGBTQ Task Force:

"The Trump-Sessions so-called "religious liberty" guidance is completely unsurprising. This administration has shown again and again that it values the rights of racists, of sexists, of anti-LGBTQ people and of conservative Christians over the lives of LGBTQ people, people of color, people with disabilities, women, religious minorities including Muslim and Jewish people and other marginalized populations. This guidance puts that view on paper and it won't hold up in court.

Don't be fooled — this guidance isn't meant to protect people of faith. A majority of people of faith are opposed to all forms of discrimination and oppression. This guidance also ignores the fact that there are a wide range of religious views about sex, sexuality, gender identity and reproductive justice, by instead affirming and promoting the particular views of some conservative Christians.

This guidance is meant to provide a legal basis for discrimination to anyone who is seeking one. This means that under the guise of faith, a bigot would be cast as a victim in need of protections.

The guidance is meant to "protect" the anti-LGBTQ child welfare worker who is opposed to placing young people in foster care with a lesbian couple. It is meant to "protect" the transphobic shelter worker who refuses to give a transgender person a place to sleep for the night. It's meant to "protect" the anti-Semitic restaurant owner who doesn't want to serve a Jewish customer. It's meant to "protect" the pharmacist who wants to make decisions for others and refuses to administer birth control. The list goes on.

This guidance won't stand because we won't stand for it.

Attorney General Sessions was tasked with writing this guidance in accordance with well-established federal law on religious exemptions. Instead, he issued guidance that would cause immeasurable harm to millions of people.

This guidance comes the day after a leaked memo from Sessions in which he ignored well-established court precedent interpreting protections against sex discrimination to include gender identity, and on the same day that a rule from the Department of Health and Human Services was released that would repeal mandated access to contraception. We've been watching the steady ebb of our rights being washed away; today we're standing in the flood."

From Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund: TLDEF Condemns Department of Justice Memo Sanctioning Anti-LGBTQ Discrimination Under the Guise of "Religious Liberty"

New York, NY- Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund condemns in the strongest possible terms the memo issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions today, deceptively titled "Federal Law Protections For Religious Liberty."

The memo guides "all administrative agencies and executive departments in the execution of federal law" regarding religious freedom and the federal religious freedom statute. This includes all actions by federal agencies, including enforcement of the civil rights law by the federal government. It implies that any action, if religiously motivated, is protected. This goes well beyond the bounds of the law in allowing religiously-motivated bias. It would ostensibly permit discrimination against transgender and LGBTQ Americans by both public and private individuals and organizations, if motivated by any sincere religious belief.

Statement from TLDEF Executive Director Jillian Weiss

"Through this action, the Administration has once again attacked the fundamental dignity of our community. It is blatant anti-LGBTQ discrimination disguised as 'religious liberty.' Freedom of religion is a fundamental bulwark of our Constitution, which must be protected. That does not, however, allow targeting of transgender and LGBTQ Americans for bias. Our Constitution entitles us to equal protection of the laws, which includes freedom from discrimination based on our sex. We intend to fight against such odious discrimination vigorously with all the resources at our disposal.

While referencing many of the current provisions of law that properly protect religious freedom, the broad wording of this guidance pits religion against transgender and LGBTQ identity. 94 percent of transgender people have reported that community faith leaders and/or members have accepted them for who they are as transgender persons, and more than three-quarters have been told their faith accepts them. TLDEF utterly rejects the false dichotomy between religion and transgender and LGBTQ identity.

Government offices that should be helping our citizens must not be allowed to engage in and perpetuate sex discrimination, whatever the reason. Companies doing business with the federal government, which put themselves into the marketplace to work with a great diversity of people, must not be allowed to practice sex discrimination. Religious practices are already protected by the federal Civil Rights Act. Churches and other religious institutions are already legally protected in the practice of their religion. This DOJ Memo, by contrast, turns that shield into a sword. Freedom without limits is an invasion on the rights of others. All Americans, including government employees, are entitled to their religious beliefs; they are not entitled to enforce them against our communities in violation of our nation's laws.

"TLDEF joins our movement leaders in strongly denouncing this guidance. No one should be denied government services, lose their job, or be denied opportunities open to other Americans simply for being who we are. This overbroad interpretation of religious freedom is discriminatory, illegal and wrong. Transgender people already face monumental rates of violence, unemployment, poverty and homelessness. This unlawful memo will only make these problems worse. We will oppose discrimination against our people wherever and however it appears, even when it is wrapped in constitutional principles and carrying the language of religious freedom.

We will never waver in our dedication to fighting for transgender rights."

From The National Center for Lesbian Rights: NCLR responds to Trump Administration's Attack on Birth Control

WASHINGTON, D.C.—In yet another assault on access to health care, the Trump administration today issued a regulation that would dramatically undermine an essential benefit under the Affordable Care Act—insurance coverage for birth control. Following thwarted attempts by Congress to gut health care coverage, the administration implemented a sweeping exemption permitting any employer who cites a religious or moral objection to deny coverage for birth control.

NCLR Federal Policy Director Julie Gonen issued the following statement in response:

"This is a shocking and unconscionable attack on essential health care for women and others. Once again, this administration is seeking to dismantle longstanding civil rights protections and to force women and LGBT people back into the dark ages. This rule is aimed at making it more difficult for workers to access the health care they need and allows employers to dictate medical decisions that should be between a doctor and patient.

The new rule e nshrines discrimination against women and others into law. Undoubtedly, it will embolden those who seek to discriminate beyond the birth control context, such as employers who demand exemptions from non-discrimination protections, with serious consequences for women, religious minorities, people of color, people with disabilities, and LGBT people."

The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the human and civil rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education. www.NCLRights.org .

From Equality Illinois, in firm opposition to Trump's policies

Statement by Brian C. Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois:

Equality Illinois stands in firm opposition to the guidance document issued today by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions that would allow discrimination against LGBTQ people. Using all the tools at our disposal, we will forcefully respond and defend the civil rights of LGBTQ people, who will face discrimination because of this license to discriminate.

This new guidance comes on the heels of a separate legal guidance yesterday by the U.S. Department of Justice that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not prohibit discrimination against transgender Americans and the memo issued this morning by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services permitting employers to deny basic coverage for contraception to women. We are appalled at this administration's efforts to relegate LGBTQ people and women to second-class citizens.

This is wrong, shameful, and contrary to our shared American values of equality, inclusion, and justice. We will resist.

Our response is unequivocal. First, we call on the Illinois congressional delegation to challenge this policy and affirm Illinois values of inclusion, justice, and equality.

Make no mistake: Sessions' guidance is a license to discriminate. The First Amendment protects the freedom of religion. However, Sessions' license to discriminate goes beyond the First Amendment by providing legal cover to government actors who seek to discriminate in their work as government officials.

Furthermore, the guidance document is contrary to our laws and values in Illinois. Illinois is a leader in advancing the civil rights of all people, including LGBTQ Illinoisans. Since 2005, the Illinois Human Rights Act has protected LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. Let's keep it that way. Businesses that operate in Illinois must understand that state law still prohibits discrimination against LGBTQ employees, clients, and customers.

While Illinois-based employees of federal contractors are still protected by Illinois laws protecting LGBTQ people from non-discrimination, this executive order still poses a meaningful threat to LGBTQ equality in our state, including for thousands of federal workers here. For those Illinoisans who cross state lines to work for federal contractors in other states without Illinois' robust protections, their jobs may now be at risk. And when LGBTQ Illinoisans live in a country where the leaders of the federal government seek to permit open discrimination on LGBTQ workers, the freedom many of us feel to live openly and authentically in the work place is threatened.

We are not going anywhere. The Illinois Congressional delegation must stand up to this fear-mongering and not allow this guidance to become a template for further exclusion of LGBTQ people in the fabric of America.

From Planned Parenthood: Administration has taken aim at birth control coverage for 62 million+ American women

WASHINGTON, DC — The Trump administration has taken direct aim at birth control coverage for more than 62 million American women, eliminating the guarantee they had for coverage for birth control regardless of who they work for. On Friday morning, they announced a sweeping new rule to eliminate the Affordable Care Act's requirement that all insurance plans must cover birth control without a co-pay or otherwise ensure access to birth control coverage for women whose employers or schools can legally opt out of providing coverage.

Statement from Cecile Richards, President, Planned Parenthood Federation of America:

"The Trump administration just took direct aim at birth control coverage for 62 million women. This is an unacceptable attack on basic health care that the vast majority of women rely on. With this rule in place, any employer could decide that their employees no longer have health insurance coverage for birth control.

We're talking about a fundamental right — to be able to decide whether and when you want to have children.

"Birth control is not controversial — it's health care the vast majority of women will use in the course of their lifetime. Two million women rely on Planned Parenthood health centers each year for birth control. Nine out of ten women of reproductive age will use birth control in their lifetime. This administration is carrying out a full-scale attack on birth control—- eliminating insurance coverage for birth control, eliminating programs that help women with low incomes access birth control, and moving to prohibit health care providers from even giving women information about birth control or abortion. We cannot allow President Trump to roll back the progress women have made over the past century."

The Affordable Care Act includes a provision that includes birth control as preventive health care — requiring health insurance plans cover birth control without a copay. The Obama administration later worked out an accommodation allowing religious-affiliated employers and schools to refuse to cover birth control on religious grounds, while ensuring their employees would still have health coverage provided directly by the health insurance company.

The rule proposed by the Trump administration today would change that, allowing any employer (nonprofit, small business, large corporation, private or publicly-held), school, or other entity to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage for religious or moral reasons — a standard unprecedented in its vagueness. It also eliminates the guarantee that women will continue to receive coverage for birth control regardless of their employer's beliefs by making the accommodation voluntary.

The rule is peppered with anti-contraception language, making its real purpose clear. For example, the rule rejects the notion that there is a connection between coverage for birth control and reducing unintended pregnancy.

The rule will go into effect immediately, with a comment period ending on December 5.

BACKGROUND ON BIRTH CONTROL:

FACT: Nearly nine in 10 women of reproductive age will use contraception at some point in their lives, whether for family planning or other medical reasons like treating endometriosis.

FACT: We are at the lowest rate of unintended pregnancy in 30 years, and a historic low of pregnancy among teens because of expanded access to birth control and sex education.

FACT: The Affordable Care Act's birth control provision saved women an estimated $1.4 billion on birth control pills in its first year alone. Thanks to this benefit, more than 62 million women now have access to birth control without copayments.

FACT: According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, after the Affordable Care Act's birth control provision took effect, fewer than 4 percent of American women had to pay out of pocket for oral birth control. That number was more than 20 percent before the law's passage.

FACT: A 2010 Hart Research poll, conducted before the Affordable Care Act's birth control provision went into effect, found that one in three women voters had struggled to afford prescription birth controls, including 57 percent of young women aged 18 to 34.

FACT: The rule comes just weeks after the Senate rejected deeply unpopular attempts to pass Graham-Cassidy, the latest version of Trumpcare, which would have eliminated the requirement that health insurance cover birth control.

FACT: According to recent FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests, most companies already getting Obamacare birth control waivers aren't even religious groups. Vox reports that in fact, over half of the groups who applied for and received exemptions were for-profit companies and corporations.

FACT: 86 percent of Americans (including 91% of Democrats and 83% of Republicans) support policies that make it easier to get the full range of birth control methods.

FACT: Access to birth control can help reduce maternal and event infant mortality. In 1965, at the time of the Griswold v. Connecticut decision, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that provided the first constitutional protection for birth control, 32 women were dying for every 100,000 live births in America. Today, the rate is less than half that. Infant mortality has fallen even faster — from 25 deaths to six deaths per 1,000 live births.

FACT: Women use birth control for a variety of reasons — in fact, 58 percent of all women who use the pill rely on it, at least in part, for something other than pregnancy prevention, including endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome — which is prevalent among women of color — fibroids, and menstrual regulation.

FACT: In 2014, Bloomberg Businessweek also ranked the invention of the pill is one of the top 10 most transformative moments in the business sector over the last 85 years. Access to birth control has not just opened up educational and career opportunities for women, but it has catapulted women into more management roles. In fact, a study showed that the pill is responsible for one-third of women's wage gains relative to men since the 1960s.

BACKGROUND ON TRUMP ADMINISTRATION'S ANTI-BIRTH CONTROL APPOINTEES:

Just look at who's at the helm of Trump's HHS. President Trump has systematically filled key Administration positions with anti-science, anti-women's health extremists, including:

- Title X National Family Program Overseer Teresa Manning, a former lobbyist for the National Right to Life Committee and policy analyst for the Family Research Council,claimed in an interview with WBUR that "contraception doesn't work," and stated on C-SPAN that she does not believe the federal government should run family planning programs.

- CMS Administrator Seema Verma, who runs Medicaid and Medicare, two of the programs that provide the most health care to women of all ages, believes that maternity coverage should be optional.

- FDA Chief Scott Gottlieb who says that women's access to birth control under the Affordable Care Act has been harmful to women.

- HHS Top Spokesperson Charmaine Yoest, who has touted phony claims that abortion causes breast cancer that are based in junk science and spent years as an anti-abortion extremist.

- Valerie Huber, Chief of Staff for Don Wright, now the Acting Secretary of HHS, is an anti-sex education activist and CEO and of Ascend, formerly known as the National Abstinence Education Association, is now responsible for key programs in this country to reduce unintended pregnancy and ensure young people's health.

- Domestic Policy Council Member Katy Talento believes that birth control causes miscarriages and abortions. Talento, who is vehemently opposed to basic contraceptive coverage, is now responsible for helping shape health care legislation that will impact millions of women for years to come

- HHS Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs head Jane Norton, a staunch opponent of Planned Parenthood who spent the majority of her political career in Colorado attempting to cut women off from this health care provider.

- (Current) Acting Health and Human Services Secretary Don Wright's department has voiced opposition to requirements that doctors provide women seeking abortions with medically accurate referrals.

BACKGROUND: Women's health has been in the crosshairs since day one of the Trump administration.

In less than a year, President Donald Trump and his administration have:

- Signed a Sweeping Executive Order Directly Targeting Women's Access to Birth Control. The executive order directed the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Treasury, and Labor to consider issuing policy that would allow employers, schools, and other entities to refuse to cover women's preventive health services, including birth control, in their insurance plans on the basis of religious or moral objection.

- Expanded the Global Gag Rule. Within his first few days in office, Trump's administration took direct aim at vulnerable women and their families around the world by reinstating and, for the first time in history, expanding the already dangerous legislation.

- Undermined Title X, the Nation's Family Planning Program. Vice President Mike Pence took direct aim at basic health care for women across the country, casting the tie-breaking vote in the Senate to dismantle President Obama's rule protecting access to basic health care services through the Title X family planning program. President Donald Trump then signed the bill into law behind closed doors. Four million people across the country rely on the Title X program for essential health care like birth control, cancer screenings, STD testing and treatment, and well-woman exams.

- Took Aim at Women's Health Care in Order to Pass Trumpcare. In an attempt to force through the administration's already-unpopular bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the administration backed legislation that would end maternity coverage for women, force new momsback to work, ban abortion coverage, raise insurance costs for women, and requiring people with "preexisting conditions," including having given birth or being the survivor of domestic violence, to pay more for health insurance..

- Advocated to "Defund" Planned Parenthood and Block Millions From Essential Health Care Like Birth Control, Cancer Screenings, Well-Woman Exams, and More. Each version of the disastrous Trumpcare bill had hidden inside it an extremely harmfulprovision that would "defund" Planned Parenthood, or specifically, prohibit people with Medicaid coverage from accessing preventive health care at Planned Parenthood health centers, including birth control, cancer screenings, and STD testing and treatment. Many of these patients would have nowhere else to go for care. Those who already face barriers to accessing health care — especially people of color, people with low incomes, and people who live in rural areas — would be hardest hit. And it wasn't just in Trumpcare. The Trump administration's budget had an even broader provision hidden inside, preventing Planned Parenthood from serving any patient through a federal program, and making it the first budget in history to call out a single health care provider by name.

- Backed a Dangerous Abortion Ban. The Trump Administration announced they would support and sign legislation to ban abortion at 20 weeks if it reached the White House. Nearly 99 percent of abortions in the U.S. occur before 21 weeks, and often, abortions later in pregnancy involve rare, severe fetal anomalies and serious risks to the woman's health. Doctors, including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, oppose these laws.

- Ending U.S. Funding for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). UNFPA is a vital organization, and a leading force in preventing maternal mortality and unintended pregnancy in countries around the world. On April 3, the Trump administration revealed that they were eliminating U.S. funding for UNFPA, putting women's lives at risk.

- Cutting funding for teen pregnancy prevention and existing Title X grants. At the beginning of July, HHS notified all 81 Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP) grantees, as well as existing Title X grant recipients, that their project periods were shortened and would end on June 30, 2018.

- Eliminating protections for survivors of sexual harassment and assault. On September 22, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVosannounced that she was doing away with the Obama administration Title IX guidance, intended to assist schools in handling sexual assault allegations, due to concerns about those accused of sexual assault.

- Appointing Anti-Abortion Judges. Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court — a judge whose views are so outside of the mainstream that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had to change the rules in order to force through his confirmation. In every caserelated to reproductive rights that Gorsuch considered as a judge on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, he ruled in a way that would have blocked women's access to reproductive health care. Trump has also appointed a number of anti women's health lower court judges.

Planned Parenthood is one of the nation's leading providers and advocates of high-quality, affordable health care for women, men, and young people, as well as the nation's largest provider of sex education. With more than 600 health centers across the country, Planned Parenthood organizations serve all patients with care and compassion, with respect and without judgment. Through health centers, programs in schools and communities, and online resources, Planned Parenthood is a trusted source of reliable health information that allows people to make informed health decisions. We do all this because we care passionately about helping people lead healthier lives.

Outserve-SLDN condemns the Trump Administration's Action on Religious Freedom

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) October 6, 2017 — OutServe-SLDN issued the following statement today in response to President Trump's action on religious freedom. The statement may be attributed to OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Matt Thorn.

"OutServe-SLDN condemns the unjust, discriminatory and un-American actions of the Trump Administration in moving to enable nationwide, federally-sanctioned discrimination against whole classes of people under the guise of protecting religious freedom. By dramatically reinterpreting religious exemptions in existing laws and executive orders, the Trump administration is providing a broad, unfettered license to discriminate to federal government employees, nonprofit organizations and companies that receive any kind of government contracts or funding.

Far from bringing the nation together, this action further divides Americans into haves and have-nots: those who have equal rights and those who don't. This action is grossly unfair, discriminatory and goes against the principles on which this nation was founded.

We have been down this intolerant road before with Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) and the ban on transgender service members. Today's action is an abomination as bad as DADT and the transgender ban.

LGBT servicemembers and veterans have served this nation since its founding and have fought and died to protect our freedoms. They should never again be separated into a lesser class of citizens solely because of their sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity. And they should never again be subject to discrimination simply because they are trying to serve their country. But that's exactly what this Executive Order will enable — it's a blank check for hate written by the government of the United States.

Make no mistake: these kinds of discriminatory actions by a federal government breed resentment, fear and hatred. And the climate that it creates enables hate speech or worse against anyone perceived as different or "less than" others. We've seen the impact of that kind of environment on our military and our nation. No one should ever want to return to it.

Freedom of religion is a fundamental American value. But the utilization of religion as a tool of discrimination goes against everything it means to be an American. OutServe-SLDN condemns this hateful, divisive, reinterpretation by the Department of Justice of religious freedom and we will vehemently oppose this and any attempts by this administration to provide a license to discriminate.

In the face of this administration's current and recent actions, we reaffirm our dedication to supporting and advocating for our nation's LGBT servicemembers, veterans, and their families.

OutServe-SLDN remains unequivocally committed to legally defend all service members, veterans, their families, and Defense and Veterans Affairs civilians and contractors as a result of any actions of the Trump Administration. Last year, our legal department handled over 300 cases. We are prepared to handle whatever we may be presented with in the aftermath of the signing of today's actions.

OutServe-SLDN also will launch our new Legal Emergency Action Fund (L.E.A.F.) initiative today to raise funds for the expected legal work resulting from these actions. Impact Litigation and Attorneys are costly and OutServe-SLDN provides all of our services pro-bono. It is imperative that we have the resources to handle the cases resulting from this egregious Executive Order. Continuing to build our legal defense is our number one priority, now more than ever.

If you think you, or your family may need legal assistance, immediately contact Andy Blevins, our Legal & Policy Manager, immediately. He can be reached via email at ablevins@outserve.org, or via phone, toll-free, at 800-538-7418.

OutServe-SLDN (OS-SLDN) is the largest non-profit, legal services, advocacy and policy organization dedicated to bringing about full LGBT equality to America's military and ending all forms of discrimination and harassment of military personnel on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. For more information, visit www.outserve-sldn.org .


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