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Republicans in Congress push Trump for religious liberty executive order

President Trump takes questions from reporters during a lengthy news conference at the White House on Feb. 16, 2017. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON (USA Today) Dozens of Republican lawmakers are asking President Trump to scale back Obama-era protections for gays and lesbians in order to make good on a campaign promise to protect religious liberty.

In early February, Trump was reportedly considering an executive order that would reverse former President Obama’s orders prohibiting discrimination against gays and lesbians in the federal workforce or by federal contractors. But the order was never signed.

A group of 51 members of the House wrote to Trump this month to “request that you sign the draft executive order on religious liberty, as reported by numerous outlets on February 2, 2017, in order to protect millions of Americans whose religious freedom has been attacked or threatened over the last eight years.” The letter has not been publicly released but was obtained by USA Today.

In February, the White House said Trump had no plans to sign such an order: “The executive order signed in 2014, which protects employees from anti-LGBTQ workplace discrimination while working for federal contractors, will remain intact at the direction of President Donald J. Trump.”

On Monday, a senior White House official said that some sort of policy to protect religious liberty is still in the works but that the president is trying to find middle ground. The official did not want to publicly discuss a policy that is still under development.

The official said Trump has been clear about his support for the LGBTQ community — including after the shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., and again during the Republican National Convention — and does not support any kind of discrimination. But Trump also believes there should be policies that allow for people to express and maintain their strongly held religious beliefs, the official said.

The official acknowledged it would be a delicate balance and said discussions were ongoing about how best to proceed.

Beyond the workforce provisions, the widely circulated draft order would have eliminated the contraceptive mandate that requires religious institutions to provide health insurance for birth control. Republicans lawmakers are also pushing for the order to allow doctors to refuse on religious grounds to perform abortions, and the lawmakers also want to see protections for religious nonprofits to be able to express political opinions without losing their tax-exempt status.

Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, led the charge on the April letter. He said it makes no sense to defend the Obama executive order or other policies that Davidson believes cause undue stress to people who are trying to practice their faith.

Davidson brought up Catholic Charities, an organization that facilitates adoptions and foster care but will not adopt out to same-sex families. Branches of the organization have had trouble with licensing because they will only adopt out to married heterosexual couples.

“Fundamentally, to Christians, you can’t say, ‘We’re going to protect your First Amendment rights and be the way they’ve always been.’ But now, to the Catholic Church: ‘If you want to place a baby for adoption you have to also place them with same-sex couples’ and the church says, ‘That’s an affront to our doctrine.’ You can’t have it both ways,” he said.

Davidson said Democrats should also be able to support religious liberty protections.

“It strikes me that broadly, in general, progressives have been pretty welcoming to Muslims and have been very upset with the president and his tone with Muslims. I think this could be something that could be seen as a way to reach out and say, ‘No, the First Amendment applies to everyone in America,’” Davidson said.

The letter’s signatories, all men except for Missouri Rep. Vicky Hartzler, include some of the Republican caucus’s most conservative members.

A similar letter was sent by Senate Republicans earlier this month.

“An executive order requiring federal government agencies to protect the right to religious freedom is necessary, and directing agencies to adhere to existing federal laws protecting religious freedom is sound policy,” the letter reads.

But not everyone agrees. Laura Durso of the progressive Center for American Progress said freedom of religion is already protected by the First Amendment and any efforts to get additional protections will create “a license to discriminate across a wide range of federal programs.”

“You can’t have it both ways in this administration, as much as they try to say ‘we’re going to be a friend of the LGBT community, but give people the right to discriminate against them,'” said Durso, vice president of the LGBT Research Communications Project at CAP.

JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president for policy and political affairs at the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, said that if Trump went forward with the leaked order it would “allow an unprecedented expansion of taxpayer-funded discrimination.”

(Eliza Collins writes for USA Today)

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Eliza Collins

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  • Religious liberty, is that more important than these guidelines?

    1. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way……….Romans 14:13

    2. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God…..Romans 15:7

    3. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love…..Ephesians 4:2

    4. Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble…..1 Peter 3:8

    5. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves…………Philippians 2:3

    6. Be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone…….Titus 3:2

    7. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven………..Luke 6:37

    8. ABOVE ALL, LOVE EACH OTHER DEEPLY, because love covers over a multitude of sins………..1 Peter 4:8

    9. Let your gentle spirit be known to all men.……….Philippians 4:5

    10. Don’t seek your own good, but the good of others…….. 1 Corinthians 10:24

    Maybe they should be the NEW Ten Commandments.

  • Because legalized discrimination in the workplace is clearly a benefit to the public at large. /sarcasm

    BTW Republicans can go eff themselves in calling the platform “Religious Liberty”. It’s an Orwellian label. It has nothing to do with freedom of religion and everything to do with attacking the public with impunity. Your right to free exercise of religion never extended to a privilege to attack people or force others to adhere to your faith.

  • ” . . . Trump has been clear about his support for the LGBTQ community —
    including following the shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando and again
    during the Republican National Convention — and that he does not
    support any kind of discrimination. But Trump also believes there should
    be policies that allow for people to express and maintain their
    strongly held religious beliefs, the official said.”

    The Trump-haters will never give him credit, but this seems to me to be an inclusive and even-handed position for the president to take. I’m certainly no big Trump supporter, but as spiritual people, we can’t let ourselves become so blinded by partisanship that we fail to give credit where credit is due!

  • I’m an atheist so would this allow me not to have tax dollars subsidize fairytale based groups? Tia

  • And Barak Obama DOESN’T LIE? Remember, “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor?”

    That gutless former president didn’t even sign his own executive order, banning LGBT discrimination in federal hiring!

  • ““It strikes me that broadly, in general, progressives have been pretty welcoming to Muslims and have been very upset with the president and his tone with Muslims. I think this could be something that could be seen as a way to reach out and say, ‘no, the First Amendment applies to everyone in America,’ ” Davidson said.” —–

    The doctor in Livonia, MI who was arrested for doing FGM on young girls looks forward to this order being signed.

  • Pitiful. Preston didn’t say anything about Obama or made any comparison. Not every observation of how people suck is a statement of preference for their primary opponents or predecessors. Maybe it is just a statement for how they suck.

  • They can express their religious beliefs all they wish. As far as I can tell, they have been doing that nonstop. No executive order from 2Rump is required. That’s what the first Amendment is for.

    They can maintain their religious beliefs all they wish. They don’t need to get gay married, they need not celebrate gay marriages in their church, they can disfellowship anyone they like as nastily as they like. They don’t have to attend my wedding, nor will I expect a gift. That’s what the first amendment is for.

    What they cannot do is discriminate against other people on the basis of their religious beliefs in public accommodations. Laws at every level of government in every state forbid this, as does the Civil Rights act of 1964. And in some states, on the basis of sexual orientation. That’s what those laws are for.

    If they don’t like those laws, they have a constitutional right to petition the government to get rid of them. What they Don’t have the right to do is pretend that being a conservative Christian gives them the special right to ignore those laws, or claim that their religious beliefs exempt them from obeying them because they think that this is some special case that an executive order from 2Rump can be an end run around laws they don’t Iike.

  • Are you being forced to adhere to somebody else’s faith, Spuddie? If yes, how so?

    Side question: Are you being forced to participate in, or assist in celebrating / affirming any ceremonies that oppose your current belief system?

  • What disgusting liars and hypocrites, trying to use ‘religious liberty’ as an excuse for commercial discrimination. We need a ‘separation of church and commerce’ amendment to the constitution. No commercial entity should be allowed to get religious exemptions to any regulation, and no religious entity should be allowed to engage in commerce or enter into government contracts of any kind.

    If you can’t get enough funding for your spiritual mission without SELLING things, then clearly you don’t have enough support for that mission, and should apply the ‘Franklin rule’: “When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obligated to call for help of the civil power, it’s a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”

  • Adoption services provided by Catholic Charities are usually at taxpayers’ expense. It would be absurd to allow them to discriminate with public money. An executive order would have no effect on state requirements.

    In fact, none of this would have any effect on state and municipal nondiscrimination ordinances. You know, the florist, the two bakers and a photographer that we have been hearing about for eight years or so.

    What they really want is to rescind the order that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating.

  • Are any local, state or federal lawmakers proposing any Sharia laws, anywhere in America? Are any non-Muslims in America proposing Sharia law at all?

    If so, then who? Where?

  • Davidson is completely full of pooh on this. Yes, progressives think that religious liberty applies to Muslims too. This means that Muslims have exactly as much of a right to build a mosque in Alabama as Baptists have to build a church. No more, no less. This means that discrimination against Muslims in commerce is just as tortious as discrimination against Mormons or Catholics. No, this does not mean that Muslims can use ‘religious liberty’ as an excuse to discriminate against Jews, any more than it means that anyone, no matter what they call themselves, can use ‘religious liberty’ to discriminate against gay people.

    When these same politicians make the argument that ‘religious liberty’ applies to Rastafarians growing and possessing their sacred cannabis, then and only then will they begin to be worth listening to. Don’t hold your breath.

  • This has nothing to do with Obama and he did not lie. He failed to consider the ramifications of substandard health insurance policies. In order to cover preexisting conditions the ACA had to require policy upgrades. Few people had to change doctors. The issue was whether or not people had to change insurance policies.

  • The order the Republicans are seeking here would allow individuals’ personal adherence to Shariah to override anti-discrimination laws. The “Sharia laws” already exist.

  • Let’s see, employer health benefits can be curtailed if an employer doesn’t like the idea of access to contraceptives for my family. Even though it’s really none of their business. One can be fired for getting married or for just for one’s personal life and if their employers religion allegedly compels them to attack certain classes of people (as you frequently claim to).

    “Participating in”, “assist in celebrating” being dishonest euphemisms for denying employment, goods and services to people that is normally available to the general public. Calling discrimination by another name doesn’t change its nature.

    My belief system is not an excuse to defy anti discrimination laws or attack the rights of others.

    Denial is a cheap ploy, even for you.

  • Catholic Charities was one of the first to leave Massachusetts after SSM was made legal in 2004. As much as the RCC talks (and talks and talks) about how moral they are this is just another of their many cruel failings. They’d rather kids be in an orphanage than with loving parents of the same sex.

  • “Are any non-Muslims in America proposing Sharia law at all?”

    Yes, you are. You are advocating people must submit to discrimination and loss of rights in service of your faith.

  • Actually Catholic Charities in Boston placed 13 children with same-sex couples in the decade before marriage equality. The adoption laws had been equalized before the marriage laws, and in fact were used by the Supreme Judicial Court in making the marriage decision. It was Sean O’Malley, who took over for the corrupt Bernard Law in the Boston diocese, who forced Catholic Charities to close their adoption services rather than continue treating same-sex couples equally, and 1/8 of this Board of Directors quit in protest.

    Oh, and why this sudden push for “religious freedom” only against LGBT equality. I was raised Catholic, and therefore raised to believe that Mormons, Baptists and lots of other denominations were “pseudo-Christian.” Why wasn’t there an outcry when the federal government added “religion” to anti-discrimination laws? It’s OK to tell a religiously-affiliated adoption agency that they have to allow heretics to adopt, but not gays and lesbians?

  • I wonder if he would be so magnanimous about an executive order allowing discrimination if it catered to, say, the Christian belief that remarriage after divorce is equivalent to adultery? Something tells me no.

  • If this happens it will make kristalnacht look like a picnic, because the nazi thugs in the cities will take it as permission to beat and kill and vandalize. If you are anything other than a str8 white christian, or have a shop of any kind, be ready to defend yourself.

  • No because this actually has nothing to do with religious liberty, it is a christofascist move to legitimize acts of hate.

  • Mr. David Cary Hart, here goes: Obama certainly DID LIE! The insiders leaked that fact to the media, after consultants helping to fashion his plan, leaked the fact that it was ready to go down in flames with nothing to attract those who he needed to pay for the uninsured!

    This famous lie by Obama is a matter of public record! Please do a little research before you go about blindly trying to defend the indefensible! If you can manage to put a few facts into your responses, you’ll look a lot smarter to the people who read these comments!

  • so what? calm your ass down and go play golf with trump, he is probably going again this weekend. no lie.

  • It sounds like YOU’RE the one who needs to calm yourself down and go play some golf yourself! Maybe you can get Obama to let you play golf with him! Oops! You probably don’t have the four-hundred grand you would need to play with him and his buddies at Cantor Fitzgerald!

    Guess you’re just going to have to sit home and deal with the fact that you’re a a BIG LOSER–the opinion everyone else has of you!

  • Pathetic. “NUH UH! YOU CALM DOWN, YOU SHOULD DO THE THING YOU TOLD ME TO DO BECAUSE OBAMA!”

    Grow up, you clown.

  • ” …Apart from number 2. ”
    2. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God…..Romans 15:7

    But why? That’s one of my favorites too.

  • First, let’s stop using this silly term that obfuscates the actual purpose of this. This is strictly a ‘Right to Bully’ legislation. It gives people permission to bully others. This should be opposed by all actual Christians. This is the exact opposite of the Beatitudes.

  • ” I don’t believe either of them ever existed. ”

    But they might have. It’s ‘possible’. You’ll have to agree here.

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