Report: Administration drafts 'religious freedom' executive action

Report: Administration drafts 'religious freedom' executive action
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The Trump administration may seek to dramatically expand what defines a religious organization and offer broad protections to individuals and organizations that oppose same-sex marriage, contraception coverage and more on the basis of religion, according to a draft copy of an executive order obtained by The Investigative Fund and The Nation.

The order, “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom,” would broaden religious freedom protections to ”any organization, including closely held for-profit corporations, operated for a religious purpose, even if its purpose is not exclusively religious."

It's not clear if Trump will act on the draft, and the White House did not comment for The Nation's story. It is one of several draft executive orders that are reportedly circulating among officials. 

The order, as drafted, could allow employers to deny women contraception coverage, calling on the Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury secretaries to issue a rule exempting organizations and individuals from the Affordable Care Act’s preventive-care mandate.

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”Persons and organizations do not forfeit their religious freedom when providing social services, education, or healthcare; earning a living, seeking a job, or employing others; receiving government grants or contracts: or otherwise participating in the marketplace, the public square, or interfacing with Federal, State or local governments,” the draft says.

It also instructs the federal government not to revoke tax-exempt status from the broadly defined religious organizations based on a group's stance against same-sex marriage, pre-marital sex, abortion or the recognition of transgender identity. 

The order would also create a special “working group” or section of the Department of Justice aimed at investigating potential violations of religious freedom.

Religious freedom has received broad national attention in recent years, notably after the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling allowing same-sex marriage. Since then, several states have passed laws expanding religious protections.

But critics worry that such laws could allow businesses to deny service to gay customers, for example, or allow employers to fire workers based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Vice President Pence has been a steadfast supporter of such protections. As governor of Indiana, Pence signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 2015, which was later amended to add protections for LGBT people after backlash.

In a Monday briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the administration is “not getting ahead of the executive orders that we may or may not issue.”

The White House also said this week that the Trump administration would not be making changes to an Obama-era order protecting LGBT workers.