Pandora's Box Wide Open: Faith Leaders Ask Obama for Exemptions to Discriminate Against LGBT Persons

Groups say that a non-discrimination order violates religious freedoms.

CHICAGO - JANUARY 11: President Obama speaks at a rally at the University of Illinois at Chicago on January 11, 2012 in Chicago.
Photo Credit: Max Herman/Shutterstock

In the wake of the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores decision, U.S. religious leaders have sent a missive to President Obama demanding exemptions from a pending executive order that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating against gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender persons. 

The Atlanticis reporting that the letter was sent by officials of 14 organizations. It attempts to capitalize on the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobbydecision, which was handed down yesterday. The letter argues that the government must show more deference to the rights of religions.

"We are asking that an extension of protection for one group not come at the expense of faith communities whose religious identity and beliefs motivate them to serve those in need," says the letter. 

"Without a robust religious exemption, this expansion of hiring rights will come at an unreasonable cost to the common good, national unity and religious freedom," it continues. 

While controversial, the Hobby Lobby decision is considered a huge victory for those on the religious right, who have been accusing the Obama administration on waging a "war on religion." 

There are many fears — punctuated by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg's dissenting opinion of the decision — that Hobby Lobby can be read broadly and allow for widespread discrimination. Many legal commentors believe the Court's ruling grants business owners the right to discriminate against LGBT customers and employees on religious grounds. The decision is already being celebrated by opponents of LGBT rights who see it as a license to ignore non-discrimination laws.

But as The Atlantic notes, this letter doesn't come from Obama's opponents, but  from religious leaders who are mostly friendly to the White House. Some have even been close advisers on issues such as immigration reform. One of the authors of the letter is Michael Wear, who worked in the White House and was a faith-outreach consultant for President Obama's 2012 campaign. Other signatories include three former members of the President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Two prominent Catholic supporters of Obama also signed the letter.

Only last week, the Obama administration said it would ban federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity — a measure for which LGBT rights groups have long clamored.

While the letter didn't directly mention the Hobby Lobby ruling, Wear told The Atlantic that the letter was written, in part, as a response to the decision.


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Cliff Weathers is a former senior editor at AlterNet and served as a deputy editor at Consumer Reports. Twitter @cliffweathers.