Obama’s faith-based advisers divided over religious exemption for anti-gay discrimination

Largely evangelical groups are petitioning President Obama to include religious liberty protections in a pending executive order concerning LGBT employees of federal contractors.

WASHINGTON (RNS) President Obama’s faith-based advisers are coming down on different sides of a debate over a pending executive order that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation among federal contractors.

Largely evangelical groups are petitioning President Obama to include religious liberty protections in a pending executive order concerning LGBT employees of federal contractors.

Public domain image by Pete Souza

Largely evangelical groups are petitioning President Obama to include religious liberty protections in a pending executive order concerning LGBT employees of federal contractors.

The dividing line: Should the directive contain a religious exemption?

The latest entreaty to the White House about banning LGBT discrimination includes four former members of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

“An exception would set a terrible precedent by denying true equality for LGBT people, while simultaneously opening a Pandora’s Box inviting other forms of discrimination,” wrote the more than 100 signatories to a Tuesday (July 8) letter to the president.

Signatories opposed to an exemption include Harry Knox, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice; Fred Davie, executive vice president of Union Theological Seminary; Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; and Metropolitan Community Churches Moderator Nancy Wilson.

A week earlier, a letter signed by three former advisory council members and Obama’s former chief liaison to evangelicals asked the president to include an exemption for religious groups.

“A religious exemption would simply maintain that religious organizations will not be automatically disqualified or disadvantaged in obtaining contracts because of their religious beliefs,” they wrote in the July 1 letter to Obama.

Signers of that letter included, among others, Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter; the Rev. Larry Snyder, CEO of Catholic Charities USA; and the Rev. Noel Castellanos, CEO of the Christian Community Development Association; as well as former evangelical liaison Michael Wear.

The dueling opinions come a week after the Supreme Court’s controversial Hobby Lobby ruling that found some religious owners of family businesses did not have to abide by the Obama administration’s contraception mandate. Obama’s original contraception mandate exempted explicitly religious groups such as churches, but affiliated institutions like hospitals and colleges are now suing for a similar exemption.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesman, said he did not have details on when the executive order might be released. “We continue to hear from interested groups on this issue,” he said.

The diversity of religious views represented among past faith-based advisers reflects the current range of opinion on how Obama should move forward on LGBT government regulations, which are considered the next front in the fight over government rules about employment.

Before the Hobby Lobby decision, more than 150 mostly evangelical leaders 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.” They suggested specific language that was similar to the Senate version of the long-stalled Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

That request followed a letter from 90 organizations asking the Obama administration to end the Bush-era policy of permitting federally funded religious groups to hire and fire based on a person’s faith.


About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.


Click here to post a comment

  • Bloated government comin atcha. Loss of freedom to determine your own worldview certainly will follow.

  • @Lles Nats,


    Religious Republican wars cost $4 Trillion$
    Led to Prolonged Financial Depression
    Led to National Unease
    Led to Religious Desperation
    Led to a shattering of the State/Church separation

    Religion is the problem.

  • Re: “Loss of freedom to determine your own worldview certainly will follow.”

    Ah. As though the Religious Right doesn’t also running around trying to restrict freedom and imposing their views on everyone. Got it.

  • 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

    8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

    – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

    Now let’s first of all remember that loving your God and the people around you is the most important thing in the bible. You cannot argue that because the bible says it itself. Well, besides for believing in Jesus but you know what I mean.

    Okay so what does this tell us about homosexuality

    1) It is not proud and boastful. Okay. I find this one quite interesting. I start to think of God here. God loves us too. Probably more than we ever will love him. If he loves us he will not be proud and boastful. Everyone talks about what God wants from us but honestly he just wants us to believe in him and love him and those around us. If we truly love our partner who happens to be of the same sex and love God and all our decisions are made out of love then God cannot be all boastful and say he didn’t intend it that way, etc. etc. because if you love someone then that is what God wants from you.

    On the other hand. How can we pretend that we know what God wants. How boastful is that.

    2) Love is not easily angered. Hmmm… So basically everyone who gets so angry when they think about gay marriage etc. that is a sign that what you are doing is not out of love. You’re not doing that for the love of God or others. It’s just social standards we create. It’s actually quite hateful which is very non-biblical.

    3) It keeps no records of wrongs. Okay we all struggle with this one.

    4) Love never fails. Hmmm… so if you force yourself to try and stop loving your same-sex partner you will fail and be miserable. You can’t just stop loving someone. Also. If what you are doing is out of love then you cannot fail God.

    5) The last part about things passing away. Not very easy to understand in the right context but broadly it is saying that all we can count on at the end of the day is love. If you love someone and you love God but there is a scripture that says homosexual acts are wrong/women should not stand up and preach/slaves should obey their masters, what is more important. I do not know how people can rely on scripture over love. That is against the most important message in the bible.

    Also, if you think that there is no love between a same-sex couple than obviously you haven’t seen the same-sex couples that I have because there is so much love there and those people are generally so full of fruits of the spirit as well.

    I see Obama spreading love and messages of equality. I see Putin spreading hate and messages of taking away people’s basic human rights based on who they choose to share their lives with.

    Why are we even having this discussion?

  • Because it doesn’t make logical sense and so far u have not tried logic. Using thr best info I have which is admittedly not much, I understand the potential exists to damage the male “receiver” of male homosexuality each and every time its engaged. Given that, if true ir not, why would you risk hurting someone you say you love. Why risk hurting them just so you can feel good?

    I doubt it is real love for this reason. I know, many to all heterosexual couples have been greedy at time and there are all sorts of ways to psychologically and emotionallt hurt each other. But the mechanics itself of male homosexuality make me doubt these people love each other.

    Further, I know for a fact male rape in a prison orby a mob member, etc is used as a tool for psychological domination and as a threat to gain power.

  • You know why you think its normal?

    Porn is mainstream. And some time ago, porn as a business needed a way to get new customers. So they started sodomizing each other to get you to watch. And it worked, and americans do. Now we have the debateable snuff version of the films. Again, done as a matter of business to get you to watch.

    We will. And it will evolve again once they need more business revenue. But the point is you and most americans are used to the behavior now. Its normal in your mind and you assume and generalize, as necessary to operate in thd world around you, that what you see and are conditiones to is common around you. Thus is the process of it becoming “normalized”. To which I’d remind you recentl most states did vote on the issue, and the majority in the majority of states voted no.

  • In the “what have you done to us lately” category, atheists are almost negligible in the harm done to society at large. Religion however, is a driving force in pretty much everything turning the world to crap these days.

    Attacking the separation of church and state is pretty much a declaration that you have zero respect for religious freedom of any type. Without the separation of church and state, free exercise of religion will always be under attack. What you are really trying to say is Christians deserve all the power and privileges of government and everyone else can just [expletive] off. You are the one who hates this country, its laws and any notion of what liberties mean.

    Your argument is based largely on fictional nonsense spouted by liars such as David Barton. All part and parcel with his efforts to establish a theocratic government. Jefferson did not coin the phrase, Roger Williams did more than a century before the American Revolution.

    Always Right Wing, but never correct.

  • Government has no place in dealing with anyone’s definition of “sin”

    Dump the faith based programs altogether. If God will provide for them, government aid is not necessary.

  • Exactly Larry. They don’t.

    So don’t expect to be able to force me to associate with an element of society I decide I should not associate with.

  • All gay people do not choose to have anal sex. You cannot put it in the same league as heterosexual intercourse. Gay people can be married for all their lives and never have anal sex. It’s an unnecessary topic of discussion. Whether it is harmful or not is even more unnecesary

  • There is no love in pretending you think you know what is / isn’t sin. Is it not obvious that all sins are based on lack of love. If you do something out of love it is not sin. Certain homosexual acts are sinful but there is no real reason why the ones done out of love are included in the interestingly translated bible. People make decisions without thinking. You’ll find excuses around the bibles support of slavery but not homosexuality. This is why I say it is all about love. You can’t make sense of anything without it. Things done out of love are not the ones referred to as sin in the bible. Generalizations

  • I agree. The government shouldnot base decisions on religion. Just people’s basic human rights to make decisions so long as they do not harm others.

  • You don’t get THAT right. Way to misrepresent my words. You don’t have an honest bone in your body Lles.

    Your right of association ends where it becomes discriminatory conduct and causes harm to others. Not living in a cave means you have to associate with all types of people. Even those you consider “sinful”. You never had the right to harm others out of religious convictions.

  • It is obvious the “Faith Based Initiatives” represented an entanglement of government with religion that only leads to attacks and undermining both.

    If religious groups want the right to discriminate, they don’t need the government dime. If the government wants to support charitable efforts, they cannot do it in a way which undermines civil liberties.

  • “There is no love in pretending you think you know what is / isn’t sin…Is it not obvious that all sins are based on lack of love.”

    Is it not obvious that you are displaying a bit of irony here???

    Aside from that, you are completely ignoring the most important part of the equation. Love of neighbor as self is the second of the top two. Yet love of God, which assumes love of His law and all of His creative purposes and designs for the human race, trumps both love of other AND self. Hence the key statement that “love does not delight in evil, but rejoies in the truth.”

    Years ago when I was eagerly looking for a way around Jesus’ unequivocal words about divorce and remarriage, I found many arguments that echoed yours — essentially, love makes everything OK. It just doesn’t fly, not in the context of the entire gospel.

    We know from Josephus that Herod loved Herodias. Yet the greatest man that ever lived up until Jesus lost his life for shooting straight and true with Herod and telling him it was not lawful for him to have her. There is no love in winking at evil just to get along.

  • Larry. I agree with you on all the political points.

    Just the main point I’m trying to bring across to the people in terms of Christianity is that there are differing views on the idea of homosexuality and believe it or not. They are both biblical.

    For all the arguments against homosexuality / slavery (I group them together because they are very similar in scripture), there are greater arguments that actually support them.

    You can have your opinion but respect that people can have a pro-gay view and it is valid. You cannot really argue. It is personal between them and God.

    The bible is clear on homosexual acts that are already considered sinful but it is NOT clear on the ones that are controversial and based in love.

    If someone wants to get married to the same-sex, have the ceremony in a church, etc., honestly, you should not argue and throw around hateful words. They have valid reasons for what they believe and you need to respect that.

  • What?!?!

    Then if they are not having homosexual sex, how can we validly apply the term “gay” to them?

  • I will be brutally honest, I do not care what religious arguments one are going to use concerning homosexuality, abortion or any other act. Religious arguments have no place in our laws. All my points here are political.

    I also do not accept the notion that all of Christendom has the same opinions on those subjects either. We both know that is not the case. Just because one may not consider them “true Christians” is irrelevant. Opinions on such subjects run the gamut and none of them carry any authority past what one is willing to personally accept.

    I really do not care what people will say in the confines of their church or what they claim their religion calls for in dealing with others. It is how they act outside their faith/sects that matter here. When they want our government to act on such things, then it is my concern. Religious freedom means nobody can use the force of law to compel people to abide by religious doctrines. If it doesn’t have a rational and secular purpose, it doesn’t belong in our government and laws.

    For example, I believe homosexual couples have a legal right to marry, but they don’t have to do it in a Catholic church. A woman also has a right to an abortion, if they are denied communion for doing so, so be it. Churches have the right to make up whatever rules they want for such things. It has no bearing on personal liberties and legal rights.

  • Not really. I see why you argue that but what I am saying is. It is not our place to say if people sin or not. I’m not saying it is sin but you can’t go around saying that you KNOW it is because you don’t.

    Also. What I am saying is. Yes you must love God but you cannot assume that he has no place for homosexuality.

    People put so much emphasis on laws that were literally in a time of all or nothing. For example. Though shalt not kill but then God commands people to commit acts of murder. Those people did it out of love for God.

    I’m not saying the laws don’t have their place but they are not solidly applicable to every possible case.

    1 Timothy 4:1-6:

    The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.”

    —> What does this say? Well, basically it is proof that people who are against homosexuality could be wrong.

    “Everything God created is good.” – Everything has it’s place. If God created someone with a natural tendency to be with the same-sex. I believe that it is from God.

    “The forbid people to marry…” —> does this not sound exactly like what people are doing. I think you are unknowingly doing the exact opposite of what the holy spirit wants you to. If the holy spirit has become your conscious and you think about someone loving another person and that being wrong. Does the holy spirit not make you at least want to see things differently.

    Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:8-10

    –> The law is based on love. Love is not based on law. You cannot read the law without love. i.e. If I’m going to be with another man I need to make sure it is entirely out of love. Therefore, I have fulfilled the law.

    Galatians 3:23-25:

    Before this faith [in Jesus] came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

    Galatians 5:13-14 says:

    You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

    This is what I’m saying. It is difficult now that we do not need to follow the entire law because of Jesus. but how do we know what is and isn’t sin. Use love as your guide. I’m telling you now.

    You do not show that you love God by following laws that were written by people who did not know exactly what was/wasn’t sin themselves

  • The ones who are opposed to the exemption are all non-Christian liberal religious people. Shocker!

  • Oral sex, etc. Just being with each other, loving each other, raising a family. Being gays does not mean you receive anal sex. No wonder people are so against it. You do not know what you are talking about.

    You are sexually attracted to the same sex. That does not mean you can only please each other with anal sex

  • Agreed. Now lets say I am rigidly evangelical, and choose not to support or associate with the gay section of society. I obviously don’t seek them out, but also avoid the interaction when I see it coming. Similar to a believer avoiding sin when they see their own actions or thoughts stray….you pull yourself out of the dangerous situation.

    It is always my right to choose my own associations. But then lets say a gov that can’t afford itself comes along and says I must associate despite my own decision making.

    Does this not harm my ability to choose my own worldview and lead my life with true freedom? I say it does.

    And then there is larry above, openly eager to dictate my rights of association to me. Such an idea is insane that it can evem be done. Even if there were a law saying I have to bake 10 cakes per day for gay couples getting married, I’m still going to exercise some level of choice among who thise couples are and how I interact with them. Some things cannot be regulated out of existence. But it won’t stop a statist mind like Larrys from trying. He knows whats best for me, obviously.

  • All homosexual,behavior is sinful. I don’t have to pretend to know. God has made it clear.

  • You must also remember that it is unknown that any of Jesus’ disciples actually wrote the gospel. Luke may have but honestly, what I am saying is that you have to learn lessons about how to decide what sin is from the bible and then apply it to your life. We can’t let the bible tell us exactly what to believe. Paul of all people has made that clear and he’s the only one who said anything about homosexuality in the new testament

  • “2 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

    Galations 5:22-23

    So if you love your same sex partner. You are happy and have joy. You are kind to people. You are faithful. You are patient. You are gentle. You control yourself. You save yourself for marriage.

    I’m sorry. The bible is not exclusively against homosexual relationships. The church is

  • Emphasis on the part about there being no laws against the fruit of the spirit. So the laws regarding homosexual acts cannot apply to fruits of the spirit. If you think it is including a loving homosexual relationship then you need to redefine what you believe about those verses

  • “Agreed. Now lets say I am rigidly evangelical, and choose not to support or associate with the gay section of society. I obviously don’t seek them out, but also avoid the interaction when I see it coming. Similar to a believer avoiding sin when they see their own actions or thoughts stray….you pull yourself out of the dangerous situation. ”

    You have 2 choices:
    1. living in a cave/cult compound
    2. complying with laws which keep you from harming others in your social interactions and just sucking it up for the sake of civility as the price one pays for liberty for all.

    Your liberties end where they cause harm to others in a tangible manner. Discriminatory business/commercial practices are such harms.

    “And then there is larry above, openly eager to dictate my rights of association to me”

    Funny the KKK used to use the same right of association arguments to support segregation. Didn’t work out so well for them either. Not that you have any regard for the role of the government to ensure civil liberties. You never had an absolute right to association to the point of excusing deliberate harm to others. You want a right to harm others without repercussion. Laws aren’t meant for that.

    This is why brainless Libertarians always throw around terms like “statists” and “small government”. They want power with no responsibility.

    If you don’t want to do business with the entire public, don’t hold your business out to it. Work exclusively within your own group by word of mouth or at exclusive venues. Once you open that storefront or put that ad in something of general circulation you owe a duty to serve anyone who comes in the door with money.

    People like yourself want to reduce all rule of law and civil society to “might makes right”. Your entire notion of liberty only extends to what you can get away with at the expense of others.

  • Ok Lles Nats.

    Hmmm… Okay. Let’s assume that rigidly evangelical means you should not associate with the gay section of society.

    I agree with you that a government should not force you to associate but you need to avoid association in your own way. If a gay person walks into your wedding cake shop and asks for a cake. You cannot avoid that association by refusing to make that cake. If you want to avoid that association, you must not own a wedding cake shop in the conditions where gay people will ask you to make them a cake. It is a public service.

    I think you can argue certain things. E.g. I do not make cakes with two men on top of a cake because my wedding cakes are my art form and I do not wish to make that kind of art. Solution. You make a cake without two men on top of it.

    You should be free but you cannot exploit other people’s rights to be free in the process. Yes. You can interact with people differently if you want but you have to respect their own rights.

    Basically. The only way for you to be “free” is if you don’t live in a free country because you cannot say your freedom has been exploited by other people’s freedom.

    Just think about your argument. It may almost sound right but imagine if people said things like:

    I don’t like being even black people because the bible says we are allowed to have slaves. Even Jesus said that slaves must obey their masters.

    Therefore I do not want to be in a class with black people.

    Now all the black people must be moved to a class where they get a lower education because they are our slaves.

    No one can be free if you define freedom by religious beliefs

  • “The ones who are opposed to the exemption are all non-Christian liberal religious people. Shocker!”

    …Because only Christians have any legal rights in this country!

  • Given that you (rather bizarrely) define homosexuality as “having anal intercourse” (and leaving aside the issue of gay men who are virgins, celibate or who prefer sexual contact other than anal intercourse), does this mean that you consider lesbians to be straight?

  • Stephen, I don’t have time to respond to every point just now but re “everything God created is good” … we are very clearly here talking about actual material THINGS (food, drink, etc) that the people at that time believed to be clean or unclean in and of themselves. It was the ceremonial system, the symbolic prefigurement of Christ’s work, which Paul was repudiating, and not morality itself. People are not things. And people do not come into the world good. Jesus HImself said there is none (people) good except God.

    My mother came into the world with a tendency toward alcohol abuse. Is that from God? Every one of us, for that matter, comes into the world with a tendency toward some kind of impurity or other. The entire reason Jesus came into the world was to remedy this.

    “Forbidding to marry” was characteristic of certain Gnostic sects that came along a century or so after Paul, teaching that celibacy would bring one closer to God (other Gnostics saw no problem with sexual immorality at all — they were a strange and mixed lot). It has also been an irritating feature of Catholicism through the ages. It is quite a stretch indeed to try to read into it a rationale for homosexual marriage.

    “You do not show that you love God by following laws that were written by people who did not know exactly what was/wasn’t sin themselves.”

    Why then did Jesus say to live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God, and to not abandon the commands of God to follow the doctrines of men? Why did He reply to virtually every moral question presented to Him with “It is written” or “Haven’t you read…?”

  • I would suspect Poe’s Law is in effect here, but given your prior posts, maybe not. 🙂

  • Well, are there any biblical laws you don’t follow? Such as the really absurd ones. If not then why not and how do your reasons differ from a possible explanation for the verses regarding homosexual acts

  • I must say though that there is a difference between having a tendency towards alcohol abuse and always having the tendency to want a loving relationship with another man.

    The one is based on addiction. The other is based on love and fulfillment.

  • “Well, are there any biblical laws you don’t follow?”

    Well, not being born Jewish and never having been given a ceremonial law, I try to follow everything the Jerusalem Church (themselves Torah-observant) of Acts 15 said non-Jewish believers should follow, which essentially boils down to everything that falls under the law of love of neighbor, plus avoidance of all sexual immorality, foods sacrificed to idols (not much of an issue today) and inhumane buchering practices. Not a terribly complicated standard.

    “I must say though that there is a difference…”

    One might argue that, but nevertheless it does demonstrate that not every tendency is necessarily from God simply because we are “born with it.”

  • The thing I’m just so confused about is that Paul will go on one second about how we are no longer under the supervision of the law then he’s talking about how homosexual acts are wrong.

    I mean. If we take Peter for example. His opinion on Gentiles changed when he met Cornelius saying that he realizes that god does not have favoritism.

    Maybe our spiritual discoveries just aren’t finished yet. There was no such thing as a monogamous same-sex relationship in biblical times.

    I understand both sides of this debate. I just wonder if people are only inclined to the side that it is sinful because of where we are right now in society.

    I just feel like the people who wrote the bible were very impulsive. E.g. Women would stand up and give views in the middle of a sermon being disruptive so Paul says that women should not stand up and preach.

    Do you see what I mean about the bible not always being as clear as it seems?

  • I understand your questions well. What people continually tend to forget when it comes to these matters is that the Torah was never given to non-Jews. The Jews never cared whether the Gentiles among them practiced circumcision, kept kosher, mixed seeds, wore linen-wool blends, offered sacrifices, and so on. There was, however, a far more generalized and ancient standard that they DID expect “righteous gentiles” to observe. These were known as the Noahide laws (you can look them up on google), and one of them was avoidance of all sexual immorality. And there is little doubt that this was the standard the Jerusalem church had in mind when it made its decision about what gentile Christians needed to observe.

    As an illustration…Leviticus 20 lays out the sexual prohibitions that Jews were to observe, but then goes on to say that it was for transgressions such as these that God had rejected the Canaanites — long before the Torah ever existed! Clearly there was a more ancient and fundamental kind of moral standard in play that even the gentiles, without special revelations from God, were supposed to know and observe.

    More detailed discussions of these things may be found in the Midrash and the Babylonian Talmud.

  • Yes. There is no love in Supporting sinful behavior.

    Where does it say homosexual behavior is not sinful again? I won’t hold my breath.

  • Rape of females by males has been used throughout history for domination, punishment, intimidation, Tec. Does this make male/female intercourse not lovemaking in the other contexts outside of rape?