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Trump signs "religious liberty" executive order
by Matt Simonette
2017-05-04

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LGBT-rights advocates and community members prepared for the worst the week of May 1 as word leaked that President Donald J. Trump would be signing a so-called "religious liberty" executive order. But the actual scope of the order Trump signed May 4 was arguably not as far-reaching in its anti-LGBT components as stakeholders feared.

The order nevertheless offered scant comfort to advocates and others concerned about the Trump administration's stances on human rights, which they noted gave legitimacy to hateful religious-based political rhetoric and imperiled the healthcare rights of women, among other components.

Delivered in conjunction with the National Day of Prayer, Trump's order said that his administration would "vigorously enforce Federal law's robust protections for religious freedom"; direct the IRS to scale back enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, which revokes tax-exempt status from churches that take part in partisan electioneering; and provide relief for religious objectors from preventative healthcare mandates. The order additionally said that, "The Attorney General shall, as appropriate, issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in Federal law."

Michael De Dora, director of government affairs for the Center for Inquiry, called the order a "cynical pander" to far-right elements.

"Despite the president's claims today, religious leaders are already free to speak openly, and religious groups spend hundreds of millions of dollars per year lobbying, on all political issues," said De Dora. "To maintain their institutions' tax exempt status, they are barred from partisan electioneering, a rule that is already woefully under-enforced. Instead of bone-throwing to the fringes of the religious right, President Trump should listen to the vast majority of the American people including the majority of clergy—who oppose politicking from the pulpit and support the Johnson Amendment."

Rea Carey, executive director of National LGBTQ Task Force, said, "This order manipulates faith to advance the proliferation of discrimination against people who rely on reproductive contraception for their healthcare needs as well as tax payer funded use of money in politics to promote discrimination. The impact of this state-sponsored discrimination will be felt by women, LGBTQ people and other marginalized communities."

Carey also blasted Trump for referencing to Martin Luther King, Jr., in his May 4 remarks. She said King "would have been appalled by this attempt to promote prejudice or bias in the name of religious freedom. Our constitution clearly already preserves these rights and covers the freedom of religion. No executive order will ever change that fundamental right."

Officials from Human Rights Campaign suggested that the order "just let the fox into the hen house" when it comes to discrimination.

HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said, "Through this Executive Order, Trump has directed Attorney General Jeff Sessions—a man who has denied LGBTQ people equality under the law—to seek a license to discriminate across all areas of the government. This order is incredibly alarming, particularly for millions of LGBTQ people and women across the nation who are among those most frequently subjected to discrimination under the guise of religion. We are watching and we will challenge any effort by Jeff Sessions or other agencies of Trump's Administration to license discrimination."

GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard concluded, "As a matter of process, the development of this Executive Order seems to have been driven by the demands of the calendar rather than a sober consideration of the public interest. While I am relieved that LGBTQ people may have dodged a fatal shot to our rights, no one wins when fundamental rights and American values are undermined or preserved based on which constituencies can shout the loudest, or who has the President's ear last."

STATEMENTS RELEASED TO THE PRESS

From The National LGBTQ Task Force:

Washington, DC, May 4, 2017 — The National LGBTQ Task Force is issuing the following statement regarding President Donald Trump's Executive Order signed today at the White House.

"This order manipulates faith to advance the proliferation of discrimination against people who rely on reproductive contraception for their healthcare needs as well as tax payer funded use of money in politics to promote discrimination. The impact of this state-sponsored discrimination will be felt by women, LGBTQ people and other marginalized communities. The irony of this order is that millions of people of faith are affronted by the fact that Trump is misusing religious freedom to promote something they believe is morally wrong. Instead of providing 'regulatory relief' to those who want to be able to discriminate by imposing their faith on others, our leaders should be working diligently to give relief to the millions of people who are still vulnerable. Also, millions of people in this country will be deeply offended that Trump cited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr — who would have been appalled by this attempt to promote prejudice or bias in the name of religious freedom. Our constitution clearly already preserves these rights and covers the freedom of religion. No executive order will ever change that fundamental right," said Rea Carey, Executive Director, National LGBTQ Task Force.

GLSEN Statement on Signed Executive Order Legalizing Partisan Electoral Activism by Religious Organizations

NEW YORK (May 4, 2017) — In response to today's executive order signed by President Trump allowing religious organizations to engage in partisan electoral activism, GLSEN's Executive Director, Dr. Eliza Byard issued the following statement.

"Once again the LGBTQ community is moved to celebrate the idea that we have dodged a bullet. And once again this administration has taken another step down a dangerous slippery slope, undermining safeguards against discrimination and the intrusion of partisan politics into our faith communities and other aspects of civic life designed to serve the needs of all of the American public. We join with many in the religious and civil rights communities opposing this action.

"GLSEN is relieved that the threats against LGBTQ people and basic American values embedded in the draft executive order leaked in February have not yet been publicly endorsed by President Trump with action. But we remain deeply concerned by today's Executive Order both in its substance and it's hints to what lies ahead, as evidenced by the component of today's Executive Order charging Attorney General Sessions to 'issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in Federal law.' Such language suggests President Trump is eager to continue finding ways to provide religious exemptions, possibly for individuals and companies, and create a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

"Under the newly signed order, churches and other houses of worship will now be able to engage in political campaigning without fear of losing their tax-exempt status with the IRS. Significant numbers of faith leaders oppose this action, with 1,300 faith leaders signing an open letter to President Trump in support of the Johnson Amendment. Additionally, 71 percent of Americans oppose allowing religious organizations to endorse political candidates while maintaining tax-exempt status. Clearly our partners of religious faith and the American people understand that President Trump's actions today undermine the fundamentally American separation of church and state, and, of great concern to GLSEN specifically, empowers certain institutions within the faith community that have been overtly and aggressively hostile to the rights and wellbeing of LGBTQ youth.

"The Executive Order also launches an attack on contraceptive coverage in healthcare plans. This move has a direct impact on LGBTQ youth and a disproportionate impact on women and girls, denying them full control over their own bodies and healthcare.

"As a matter of process, the development of this Executive Order seems to have been driven by the demands of the calendar rather than a sober consideration of the public interest. While I am relieved that LGBTQ people may have dodged a fatal shot to our rights, no one wins when fundamental rights and American values are undermined or preserved based on which constituencies can shout the loudest or who has the President's ear last.

"GLSEN condemns the Trump Administration for today's Executive Order and stands firmly with our allies in the faith and women's communities who took the brunt of today's action."

GLSEN champions safe and affirming schools for all students. We envision a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Each year, GLSEN programs and resources reach hundreds of thousands of K-12 students across the United States, and our network of chapters brings GLSEN's expertise to their local communities. GLSEN's progress and impact have won support for our work at all levels of education in the United States and sparked an international movement to ensure equality for LGBTQ students and respect for all in schools. For more information on GLSEN's policy advocacy, student leadership initiatives, public education, research and educator training programs, please visit glsen.org .

From the Human Rights Campaign:

The Human Rights Campaign condemned Donald Trump's Executive Order which, among other things, gives Attorney General Jeff Sessions discretion to create a #LicenseToDiscriminate in agencies across the federal government.

HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said, "Donald Trump just let the fox into the hen house. Through this Executive Order, Trump has directed Attorney General Jeff Sessions — a man who has denied LGBTQ people equality under the law — to seek a license to discriminate across all areas of the government. This order is incredibly alarming, particularly for millions of LGBTQ people and women across the nation who are among those most frequently subjected to discrimination under the guise of religion. We are watching and we will challenge any effort by Jeff Sessions or other agencies of Trump's Administration to license discrimination."

Donald Trump's Executive Order instructs the Attorney General to provide guidance to all agencies on "interpreting religious liberty protections in Federal law." This sweeping approach could result in an unprecedented expansion of religious exemptions affecting employment, services, and programs. Revisiting federal law, including regulations and policies, will almost certainly have significant implications for LGBTQ people. In essence, the executive order punts the question of how and where the administration will permit discrimination against LGBTQ people to Jeff Sessions, a man who has consistently denied LGBTQ people equality under the law.

Anti-LGBTQ officials have long sought to exempt themselves from their legal obligations by demanding special rights to discriminate based on their "religious views." Based on Sessions' long career of doing exactly this, he is will almost certainly seek to apply a fundamentalist interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to areas of the law that were not implicated in Hobby Lobby as well as potentially treating closely held for-profit corporations as religious organization throughout federal law.

Some of LGBTQ protections that may be undermined include:

— HHS could be ordered to amend the 2011 Hospital Visitation regulations ensuring that same-sex spouses and designated partners have access to their loved ones if they are hospitalized. This rule was adopted following a series of tragic cases of discrimination in which same-sex spouses and partners were kept away from sick and dying partners simply because of their sexual orientation. This executive order could require HHS to implement damaging religious exemptions that would allow hospitals to turn away these family members based on the hospital's religious beliefs — leading patients to die alone.

— HUD could be required to amend the 2011 Equal Access Rule, which ensures that everyone seeking HUD-funded housing including emergency shelters and public housing are served fairly regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Under this rule, emergency shelters receiving federal funding can no longer turn someone back to the streets just because of who they are. Today's executive order could require expansive religious exemptions that would allow federal dollars to fund shelters that adopt formal policies refusing to recognize marriages of same-sex couples or the gender identity of transgender people.

— In the federal workplace, anti-LGBTQ speech and actions may be accommodated without fear of reprisal.

— For example, the Social Security Administration could adopt a policy allowing workers to refuse to process spousal or survivor benefits paperwork for a surviving same-sex spouse. They could be allowed to refuse to process a benefits application for the couple's children, including a simple application for a Social Security card.

— Employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs could refuse to process paperwork for a surviving same-sex spouse and their family also citing religious objections to same-sex marriage.

— Internal Human Resource officers at federal agencies could also be allowed to refuse to process a federal worker's application for spousal health insurance coverage for a same-sex spouse.

— Federal workers would also be allowed to refuse to use gender appropriate pronouns and names of transgender co-workers without fear of reprisal.

— The State Department could be required to include a religious exemptions for private businesses contracting with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to provide services including healthcare, nutrition support, and education. This would allow organizations receiving federal funds and representing the U.S. abroad to turn away LGBTQ people because of their beliefs on same-sex marriage and relationships or transgender people.

The Executive Order is also aimed at undermining critical preventative health care for all women, including lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women. This provision will also have consequences for transgender men. Access to quality reproductive and health care services is essential for LGBTQ women and transgender men. Laws restricting access to care and limiting outreach and education to our community directly impact the well-being of LGBTQ women and transgender men of all ages. Like straight women, lesbian and bisexual women and transgender men of every age utilize contraception for various healthcare needs including the prevention of pregnancy and family planning, as well as for the treatment of medical conditions like endometriosis, polycystic ovarian system (PCOS), migraines, and painful or irregular periods.

The preventive care mandate currently requires insurance providers (employers) to provide coverage for preventive care and screenings. Preventive care includes:

— Well-woman visits

— Screening for gestational diabetes

— HPV testing

— Counseling for STIs

— Counseling and screening for HIV

— Contraceptive methods and counseling

— Breastfeeding supplies and support

— Screening and counseling for interpersonal and domestic violence

Under the executive order an employer could refuse to provide health insurance coverage for any of these services citing religious belief of "conscience." HRC is deeply concerned that employers will feel entitled to refuse coverage for:

— Routine cancer screenings and mammograms for transgender women

— LBTQ women suffering from intimate partner violence because of their belief against same-sex marriage

— Contraception to all employees, including those who are LGBTQ, or restrict access to coverage to individuals in opposite-sex marriages

From The Center for Inquiry: Trump's Religious Privilege Order a Cynical Pander to Evangelical Base:

The Center for Inquiry denounced President Trump's executive order easing the restrictions on politicking by tax exempt religious institutions, decrying the order as a cynical pander to the religious right. The order was signed on the National Day of Prayer, itself an unconstitutional endorsement of religious belief.

The executive order, which was signed today but not publicly released, is intended to weaken the strictures of the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits tax exempt organizations, such as houses of worship and advocacy organizations like CFI, from using their privileges to endorse, oppose, or campaign for or against candidates for public office in their official capacities.

"This order is more troubling for what it represents than what it actually accomplishes," said Michael De Dora, director of government affairs for the Center for Inquiry. "Despite the president's claims today, religious leaders are already free to speak openly, and religious groups spend hundreds of millions of dollars per year lobbying, on all political issues. To maintain their institutions' tax exempt status, they are barred from partisan electioneering, a rule that is already woefully under-enforced."

"Instead of bone-throwing to the fringes of the religious right, President Trump should listen to the vast majority of the American people — including the majority of clergy — who oppose politicking from the pulpit and support the Johnson Amendment," said De Dora.

"While this executive order won't accomplish much in practical terms, it sends a signal that Trump is looking to reward his conservative evangelical base. But this political payback is divisive and dangerous, blurring the line between church leadership and political operatives."

The new order also purports to "provide regulatory relief" to those who hold religious objections, such as to the contraceptive coverage provisions of the Affordable Care Act, in line with the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision. Trump's willingness to sacrifice access to contraceptive care in employer-sponsored health insurance is another gift to his conservative evangelical base, at the expense of women's rights and health.

"America has largely avoided the religious conflict and strife that afflict other parts of the world by keeping religion and government separate," said De Dora. "President Trump doesn't seem to know or care about this founding principle."

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at www.centerforinquiry.net .

From Pride at Work:

Washington - The White House, today, issued an executive order aimed at expanding so-called "religious liberties." While this order seems to back away from the anti-LGBTQ provisions of the previous draft, the order will still provide cover for businesses that do not wish to provide birth control to their employees and will make political speech by churches and other religious institutions easier. Pride at Work executive director, Jerame Davis, issued the following statement in response to the order:

"The changes in this executive order since the previous draft leaked are a strong indication that the White House realizes that LGBTQ discrimination is not palatable to the vast majority of Americans. While the worst anti-LGBTQ provisions were removed, some pretty awful stuff remains that will impact our community.

"Reproductive healthcare decisions should not be dictated from the White House nor any employer. Make no mistake - this executive order is a direct attack on women. Trump's plan to allow businesses to deny coverage of contraceptive care under the guise of so-called religious liberty is a slippery slope. We are not a theocracy, but it appears some in this Administration are eager to continue the slow creep toward that goal.

"Freedom of religion is a fundamental bedrock of our nation's values. The First Amendment to the Constitution protects our right to believe and worship freely. This freedom is foundational, but it is not above all others. We will not stand by while this Administration thumbs their nose at the Constitution and takes away our rights to satisfy a narrow view of religion.

"Our constitutional right to practice our religion freely does not allow us to impose that belief on others, to cause harm, to discriminate. It is designed to protect everyone's rights, not the rights of a few.

"Trump's plan to give religious institutions a pass to enter the political fray is fraught with danger. Churches should not be empowered to run campaigns against LGBTQ people, women's healthcare, and more without putting their tax exempt status in jeopardy. That's a violation of the founding principle of separation of church and state.

"We will fight this shameful executive order with every tool at our disposal."

Pride At Work organizes mutual support between the organized Labor Movement and the LGBTQ Community for social and economic justice. We seek full equality for LGBTQ Workers in our workplaces and unions and we organize in the spirit of the union movement's historic motto, "An Injury to One is An Injury to All." Learn more at www.prideatwork.org .

From the National Center of Transgender Equality:

Today, President Donald Trump issued a very troubling executive order directing the Justice Department to draft potentially sweeping exemptions for anti-LGBT discrimination by federal employees, contractors, and grantees, while also aiming to promote partisan political spending by churches and limit access to contraception.

Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, offered the following statement in response:

"Thanks to the overwhelming pushback from so many communities, President Trump stopped short today of explicitly endorsing anti-LGBT discrimination. But this vaguely worded order is clearly aimed at providing a license to discriminate against LGBT people, women, religious minorities, and others—while also eroding the separation of church and state. President Trump has simply asked others in his administration to do much of his dirty work.

"Like today's Congressional vote to take away health care from millions of Americans, any effort to divide this nation is dangerous, un-American, and will ensure that those who fight for equality will do so until such efforts are dead for good. We call on transgender people and their loved ones to keep making their voices heard by their elected officials. This is our country too."


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