Groups brace for Trump’s religious liberty order


Civil rights groups are bracing for President Trump to sign an executive order on religious liberty that they fear will give individuals and organizations a sweeping license to discriminate against women and LGBT Americans. 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Human Rights Campaign are already on the attack.

Brigitte Amiri, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, told reporters Wednesday that the group is prepared to file a lawsuit immediately, should Trump sign the order.

“Obviously we need to see what it says and see what it does, but if it resembles the leaked executive order and is going to harm LGBT individuals and women and religious minorities, we will absolutely be filing suit,” she said. 

Trump has reportedly invited conservative leaders to the White House on Thursday for National Prayer Day, where he will sign the order. 

A draft copy of the order leaked to The Nation in February reportedly gave individuals and businesses the ability to claim broad religious objections to same-sex marriage, abortion, premarital sex and trans identity.

A senior administration official, however, cautioned to Politico this week that the language of the order had not yet been finalized by White House lawyers.  

Still, reports that Trump is planning to sign a religious liberty order at all has LGBT, women’s and civil rights advocates alarmed. 

“If this executive order is anything like the one that was leaked in February, it would create an unprecedented license to discriminate with taxpayers’ funds, undermine women’s health care and elevate one narrow set of religious beliefs over all others,” Sarah Warbelow, HRC’s legal director, said.

“It would promote and encourage discrimination by government contractors’ employees against people who are LGBTQ as well as open the door to a wide range of discrimination against women, un-married couples, single parents and religious minorities.”

The HRC said it’s also looking at “multiple opportunities” to challenge the order in court.

“I don’t believe you need to have an actual injury to take place because this is so clearly a violation of the Constitution,” Warbelow said. “As it stands, it is facially discriminatory and the likelihood of harm is fairly significant in many areas.” 

Warbelow fears the order will allow groups that receive federal funding like foster care, homeless shelters and hospice programs to discriminate against LGBT Americans. 

And because the draft order broadly defined a religious organization to include any closely held corporation, Amiri said it gives any business or university that provides coverage under the Affordable Care Act the blanket ability to discriminate against women in providing contraceptives. 

The National Center for Transgender Equality urged its members Wednesday to call or email the White House and tell the president not to sign “a free pass for discrimination.”   

“We’ve got to stop this. We pushed back hard when rumors of a pro-discrimination order surfaced in February, and we shut it down,” the group said in a call to action.

“But opponents of equality have been lobbying for it ever since. Now we’ve got to push back even harder.”

The hashtag #LicenseToDiscriminate was trending on Twitter Wednesday afternoon as groups, activists and even politicians rallied in front of the White House to voice their opposition to the order.   

In a statement Wednesday, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said protecting religious freedom does not require the government to condone and encourage discrimination.

“It has long been established that our Constitution protects the free exercise of religion, but those protections do not create the right to cause harm to others,” he said. 

“The protections for religious freedom are a shield to defend the practice of religion, not a sword for one person to force his or her religious beliefs on others.”

Tags Jeff Merkley

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