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Jul 8, 2014

Equality NC Tells President: No Broad Religious Exemption in Executive Order

LGBT advocates are pushing to ensure that President Obama does not include a broad religious exemption in an executive order that he is expected to sign soon that will ban discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender employees of federal contractors. The order is considered the last significant action he is likely to be able to make to advance LGBT protections without the cooperation of Congress.

Executive Order Shouldn’t Contain Religious Exemptions Beyond the Constitution and Title VII

Raleigh, N.C. – Equality NC today joined advocates working for equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in 45 states to applaud President Obama for his promised executive order protecting LGBT people from discrimination by federal contractors while asking also him to ensure that the executive order not contain any exemption beyond what is provided by the Constitution and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

In a letter written by Equality Federation, the strategic partner to the state-based LGBT movement, and signed by Equality NC's Executive Director and candidate for the Equality Federation Board of Directors, Chris Sgro, advocates told the President:

“This executive order is especially critical in the states that currently lack nondiscrimination laws protecting LGBT people. It will ensure that thousands of hardworking employees are judged on the same terms as everyone else — by their credentials, experience, education, and performance.

We understand that you are under pressure from some groups to include in the executive order a broad religious exemption. One of our nation’s most fundamental values is the free exercise of religion, but religious freedom does not include the right to discriminate against or otherwise harm others.

We ask you to make a clear statement that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is no different from the other classes protected by federal law by ensuring that the executive order not contain any exemption beyond what is provided by the Constitution and Title VII.”

The letter, which can be downloaded here, was sent to President Obama as his staff is preparing the executive order he announced was coming on June 16. All 45 Federation member organizations unanimously added their voices to this critical request.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby -- which wrongly decided that employers can use their religious beliefs to deny their employees access to benefits that they are guaranteed by law to receive -- some groups are urging President Obama to include in the executive order overly broad, far-reaching religious exemptions that would allow businesses that receive taxpayer dollars to discriminate against hardworking LGBT employees.

LGBT advocates working across the country are concerned, saying:

“Any greater exemption [beyond the U.S. Constitution and Title VII] leaves hardworking LGBT individuals at risk of being fired or treated unfairly for reasons that have nothing to do with their job performance. Any greater exemption threatens our work in the states to secure critical and comprehensive protections for LGBT employees. Any greater exemption could have serious detrimental effects in the future as this order will likely set the standard for forthcoming state and federal legislation to end discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and other aspects of our lives.”

Earlier this year, national outcry from advocates, businesses, and even the sports world led to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s veto of a bill that would have allowed businesses to discriminate against LGBT people.

Now, opponents of fairness and equality are pushing for a religious exemption in President Obama’s executive order that would allow businesses that receive taxpayer dollars to pick and choose which laws they want to follow based on their religious beliefs.

“President Obama has been a strong advocate for LGBT people, showing unprecedented leadership toward creating an America that is truly a land of opportunity, freedom, and fairness for all,” said Rebecca Isaacs, executive director of Equality Federation. “An executive order that contains only the exemptions provided by the Constitution and Title VII will send a strong message about our values as a nation: as Americans, we believe in treating all people fairly, as we’d want to be treated.”

The Equality Federation letter to President Obama is available for download here.

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