LGBT workers may feel impact of Hobby Lobby ruling

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Workers march for employment equality at San Francisco's Market and Castro streets in 2010.

Creative Commons image by Matt Baume

Workers march for employment equality at San Francisco's Market and Castro streets in 2010.

(RNS) What’s the next religious liberties faceoff? Some suggest it could be between LGBT workers and religious owners of private businesses.

Workers march for employment equality at San Francisco's Market and Castro streets in 2010.

Creative Commons image by Matt Baume

Workers march for employment equality at San Francisco’s Market and Castro streets in 2010.

On Monday (June 30), while news media dissected the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling, President Obama pledged to sign an order protecting federal employees from discrimination based on gender identity.

But he has yet to sign an executive order version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban discrimination based on gender identity for all federal contractors and subcontractors, an order that affects for-profit businesses.

Now, in the wake of the Hobby Lobby ruling, such an order could rile the waters again, several legal experts say. They see a line between a ruling about contraception and hiring, firing and benefit concerns for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees.

The Hobby Lobby ruling essentially said privately held corporations have religious rights. The evangelical owners of Hobby Lobby and the Mennonite owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties objected on religious grounds to providing contraceptive methods they say cause abortion.

In a 5-4 ruling, the court said that the government could not override the companies’ rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

If Obama signs the executive order or Congress passes ENDA (a bill stalled for 16 years), the same battle could ensue with religious owners of private businesses, said Kevin Theriot,  vice president of religious freedom litigation for Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the owners of Conestoga.

“The government would be saying you can’t get the benefits of getting a federal contract unless you give up your religious liberty rights,” said Theriot. “It’s another form of coercion. The courts will have to weigh which is more important, religious freedom or the government’s interest in eliminating discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

Michael Helfand, associate law professor at Pepperdine University, called potential tension between ENDA and religious rights “a supercomplicated political problem. It will depend on the Obama administration’s appetite for another fight.”

Ira Lupu, law professor emeritus at George Washington University, predicted, “There will be employers who will say you can’t make us pay insurance for the spouses of gays and lesbians because that would be facilitating marriages to which we object.”

However, several LBGT activists and legal observers are undaunted by the Hobby Lobby ruling.

Ian Thompson, of the American Civil Liberties Union, who specializes in legislation affecting the LGBT community, said that “while the court expanded corporate power, it made really clear that the decision was narrow. It will not operate as a shield from other kinds of discrimination laws.”

Like Thompson, Human Rights Campaign legal director Sarah Warbelow pointed to the majority opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, which made a point of saying the justices were talking only about health care and not opening the door for broad interpretations.

“Alito explicitly calls out employment nondiscrimination laws, saying discrimination in hiring that might be cloaked as religious practice can’t work,” said Warbelow.

In her view, Obama “should feel incredibly comfortable moving forward with the executive order.”

The public popularity of a viewpoint is not relevant. Just as most Americans wanted private businesses to provide insurance coverage for contraceptive services, most favor protections for LGBT workers, too.

A Public Religion Research Institute survey in May 2013 found 73 percent of Americans “favor employment laws that would protect gay and lesbian people from employment discrimination.” This included significant majorities of every major religious group — including 59 percent of white evangelical Protestants and 76 percent of Catholics.

Opposition is similar to the alignment opposing the contraception mandate — conservative evangelicals and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The Family Research Council has blasted ENDA as a liberty threat to religious employers. And the USCCB, which opposes “unjust discrimination” against gays and lesbians, has said ENDA would redefine gender as a matter of choice, not biology, thereby undermining marriage and threatening the liberty of those who disagree.

Religiously affiliated nonprofits and newly empowered private business owners are also concerned with obtaining exemptions for any laws or orders affecting hiring.

More than 150 religious leaders — including clergy and leaders of evangelical Christian universities, denominations and relief organizations — signed a June 25 letter urging Obama to “protect the rights of faith-based organizations that simply desire to utilize staffing practices consistent with their deep religious convictions.”

The letter, spearheaded by the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance and the National Association of Evangelicals, includes potential language — similar to the Senate version of ENDA — that several prominent evangelical leaders suggested at a White House meeting earlier in June.

NAE President Leith Anderson said,  “The primary issue here is religious liberty and whether organizations have to be excluded from federal contracts because they adhere to their traditional values and practices.”

Sound familiar?

The request about the executive order follows a recent letter from some 90 organizations urging the Obama administration to halt the practice of permitting federally funded religious groups to hire and fire employees based on a person’s faith. Stanley Carlson-Thies said his Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance has previously requested that the White House retain that practice.

(Adelle M. Banks contributed to this story.)


  • Lles Nats

    If you must give up rights…your “religious liberty rights”, to win a gov contract….isn’t that an admission that the gov is limiting a freedom?

    Logically, if you must give up something to get access to the mobs money, isn’t that the same as saying they are taking it away from you? In order to further their agenda of the day?

    What about just plain and simple freedom for the worker and employee? Don’t they both have a choice regarding who the employ and who they work for? Let people make their own decisions and choices. Let people be personally responsible for their actions. Why the need to constantly intervene with gov power, a power exceeding that of the surrounding natural society?

  • Larry

    You don’t have a religious right to discriminate. At will employment doesn’t absolve a company from complying with regulations affecting a business.

    As for the freedom of the worker and employee, thanks to bible thumpers with help by SCOTUS, that doesn’t mean squat anymore. they are officially conscripted to their employers religious beliefs.

    You want government money, a choice mind you that is far from compulsory, you have to play by their rules. If you can’t, don’t stick your hand out for it.

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  • Lles Nats

    They are not “discriminating” against any of the protected classes of minority citizens, as this is about abortive birth control.

    Since its about abortive birth control, it cannot be about discrimination, unless you try to make it so to broader you case in a attempt to bolster it. This isn’t a quantum discussion, so it cannot logically be about two things at once.

    The evil hobby.lobby does provide preventative birth control in its plans. And preventative measures were never the issue in the case, nor was hobby lobby’s encumbrance to provide that cost for it employees, be they part of a federally protected or unprotected group.

  • Jon Trouten

    IUDs are not “abortive” forms of birth control.

  • Lles Nats

    Amazing observation. Which is probably why the case only covers paying for abortifacient devices and drugs. Yes, thanks to liberal indoctrination, determining what is abortive in nature also probably hinged on the legal definition of the term fetus.

    So go back to huffpo so they can tell you once again how and what to think. But by all means, get totally worked up now that we evil christians get to pick and choose which laws and regulations you can impose on us. I mean big time. A christian with the power to determine a christian course for their personal lives in america, and cast voted accordingly, is probably your worst nightmare. Be afraid.

  • Pamela Wheaton

    IUDs are most definitely abortive if the egg is fertilized when it hits the uterus. The argument is that life begins at conception and any action that terminates that life is abortive. IUDs work by irritating the thickening uterine wall to the point that it causes menstruation. It doesn’t differentiate between a fertilize and a non-fertilized ovum when doing its job.

  • Larry

    That is only half true. The article is about applying “corporate religious” beliefs to discriminating against gay workers.

    As for abortive birth control, that is just Steve Green’s ignorance given weight by alleged religious belief. It’s a hair not worth splitting. Evil Hobby Lobby makes ignorant hypocritical decisions that violate notions of privacy of employees, the corporate veil, and religious freedom. Steve Green should not have been making ANY decision on what birth control is best for his workers.

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  • Atheist Max


    Christians love to screech that they are not pushing their
    religion on anyone else. They talk about god and free will and punishments
    after you die.

    But what they always want is power right here
    And right now
    over everybody else.

    “Is it not clear that the same power which can establish Christianity
    would be just as capable of establishing one sect of Christianity
    over another one?”
    (ANTI-THEIST founder of the United States)

  • Bill

    Another headline in search of a story. Employment discrimination law in regard to non religious and for profit organizations has never been connected to RFRA and the Supreme Court isn’t interested in going there.
    There might be a challenge to the President’s executive order, but not on religious grounds.

  • Doc Anthony

    There’s no need to do all that complaining. And there’s no need for those “LGBT workers” to do all that complaining, either.

    The Supremes simply said that Hobby Lobby won a tiny, TINY victory on just one issue: paying for contraceptives.

    Other than that, the Supreme Court has given the Gay Bullies and Gay Gestapo a blank check to do all the vicious dirt they wanna do on Hobby Lobby and any other Christian-owned business.

    Gay activists have no shame, and especially they have NO mercy, (and no and the SCOTUS (along with that turncoat pseudo-President who has effectively gone insane), have given them everything they want.

    So there’s no need to complain, it seems!

  • Atheist Max

    “Execute them in front of me” – Jesus (Luke 19:27)

    Gosh. What is there to complain about?
    How harmful can a little religion really be?

  • Pamela Wheaton

    Luke 19:27 is part of a parable. Jesus did say that, but it was part of a story to deliver a much larger message. To understand it as well as the other parables one must study Bible in its entirety. It doesn’t stand alone and that small piece was most definitely not a call by Jesus for an execution.

  • Atheist Max

    @Pamela Wheaton,

    Yes – you are correct that it is a parable.
    You are completely WRONG that this somehow means Jesus did not command executions!

    “..bring to me those enemies of mine who would not have me as their King and execute them in front of me.” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)

    OF LUKE 19

    Catholic Christ Notes – THE NOBLEMAN IS JESUS:







    Adolph Hitler:
    OUR Lord Jesus is a soldier for God

    “My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow my self to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice… And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly it is the distress that daily grows . For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people.”
    -Adolf Hitler, in a speech on 12 April 1922

    ANY ‘clarification’ or defense of this disgraceful, immoral
    and pathetic JESUS
    is 2000 years too late!

  • Atheist Max


    The message of the Parable of the Minas is this:

    Obey your master or you will be executed.

    That is what Jesus was preaching to his disciple and it was understood very clearly because this parable has been used throughout history as the parable of the prophecy of the second coming when Jesus will execute his enemies.

    Shame on you for defending it.

  • larry

    Or as one snarky online commenter said,
    “The court found that corporations are people, but women are not”

  • Jamie Townsend

    Larry- Atheist Max and you are right regarding this Hobby Lobby thing – – this ruling is insane because it unfairly burdens women over men with medical problems..I dont think most Christians are paying any attention to the fine print of this. Typical!
    I’m a nonbeliever also but what bothers me is the complete burden lies on women. As usual. sucks being a woman even now.

  • John

    You don’t sound all that different from the Christians you yell about when it comes to imposing power on others.

  • Atheist Max


    Thanks for realizing that I have to fight for myself
    against your endless Christian crusader onslaught.

    Religion is fascist nonsense.
    The tyrant is the religion. To mutiny against the tyrant is to liberate oneself.

    If the religious would just get off my back maybe I could relax.
    Seem you can’t stop being a tyrant, though.

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  • michael

    how would
    Gay Men
    be effected by laws on birth control? None of these people can give birth no matter how hard they try to with their respective partners.

    The only people of the LGBT Community that may be effected are Bisexuals….

    As far as I am concerned If you can not afford $19 a month out of your own pay to prevent a child then you can not afford the half a million dollars it will cost to raise a child … and you shouldn’t be having intercourse because it is not fair to the child.

    Just because you have sex organs does not mean you have the right to take lightly a child that may result from your stupidity.. and if you are that stupid then you are going to forget to take the pill or end up pregnant when you have to go off it….

    NOT TO EVEN MENTION these drugs are the reason breast cancer has skyrocketed in the past 40 years..

    Do so at your own risk on your own dime.. and don’t bring kids into this for any reason if you can not care for them..

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