Donald Trump will sign a “religious freedom” executive order today, but has backed off of some of the anti-LGBT provisions that were in a leaked draft of the order published earlier this year, according to reports.
President Trump on Thursday will ease restrictions on political activity by churches and charities, White House officials said, but has backed away from a broader religious liberty order that would have allowed faith-based organizations and companies to avoid serving or hiring gay people.
Conservative religious leaders who were fierce supporters of Mr. Trump’s candidacy had pushed the president to provide faith organizations with much more sweeping relief from Obama-era regulations that protect gay men, lesbians and others from discrimination.
Instead, in an executive order, Mr. Trump will offer a vague promise to “protect and vigorously promote religious liberty.” He will also direct federal agencies to exempt some religious organizations from Affordable Care Act requirements that provide employees with health coverage for contraception.
The NYT adds that “In a late-evening briefing for reporters, White House officials pointedly said the much more limited executive order that Mr. Trump will sign on Thursday does not address any issues of discrimination against gays, lesbians or anyone else.”
The EO will “direct the I.R.S. not to actively investigate or pursue cases of political activism by members of the clergy” with regard to the Johnson Amendment, which Trump vowed to “destroy” during the campaign, an act which would require congressional action.
Trump is expected to sign the order when a bevy of religious figures visit the White House on Thursday for the National Day of Prayer.
However, the scope of the order — if signed in the condition the official described — would fall short of what many religious conservatives had hoped for.
Many had expected — on the left and right — that the order would offer protections for people and corporations with a religious objection to LGBT people, far more hot button issues. The White House official said there were not plans for a separate order that addressed LGBT issues.
Speculation about what the order would say is based largely off a draft version circulated this past winter. According to leaked preliminary text, the order would block the federal government from retaliating against those who act — or refuse to act — based on their religious objections to same-sex marriage, transgender people, abortion, contraception, and sex outside marriage.
Still, the White House hasn’t released text of the final order — and several congressional offices from both sides of the aisle, conservative organizations, and liberal groups all indicated they did not have knowledge of the order’s actual contents.
We’ll see if these reports are correct when the final language of the executive order is released later today.
Dozens of Republican lawmakers sent Trump a letter last month urging him to sign the order. Although the White House said in February that it had no plans to sign the order, an official told USA Today that Trump was trying to find a “middle ground” policy.
A draft of the alleged order leaked in February. Read a PDF of the draft HERE.
The four-page draft order, a copy of which is currently circulating among federal staff and advocacy organizations, construes religious organizations so broadly that it covers “any organization, including closely held for-profit corporations,” and protects “religious freedom” in every walk of life: “when providing social services, education, or healthcare; earning a living, seeking a job, or employing others; receiving government grants or contracts; or otherwise participating in the marketplace, the public square, or interfacing with Federal, State or local governments.”
The draft order seeks to create wholesale exemptions for people and organizations who claim religious or moral objections to same-sex marriage, premarital sex, abortion, and trans identity, and it seeks to curtail women’s access to contraception and abortion through the Affordable Care Act.
The contents of the leaked document were draconian and chilling:
Language in the draft document specifically protects the tax-exempt status of any organization that “believes, speaks, or acts (or declines to act) in accordance with the belief that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, sexual relations are properly reserved for such a marriage, male and female and their equivalents refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy, physiology, or genetics at or before birth, and that human life begins at conception and merits protection at all stages of life.”
Politico reports that “The new draft is being tightly held, but one influential conservative who saw the text said it hasn’t been dialed back much—if at all—since the February leak. ‘The language is very, very strong,’ the source said.”
Meanwhile, the ACLU is telling Trump, don’t you dare, we’ll sue immediately:
It’s telling that out of nearly 240 Republicans in the House, a mere 51 signed this letter. (Eighteen Republicans out of 52 joined a similar letter in the Senate). As we have repeatedly made clear, the ACLU will not hesitate to challenge this discriminatory EO should it be signed.
For President Trump to stand any chance at following through on his campaign promise to be a “real friend” to the LGBT community, he cannot follow fringe, anti-LGBT extremists down this ill-advised path of licensing discrimination under the guise of religious liberty. Those representatives advocating for this EO in Congress are urging a return to a discriminatory past, and they are a minority even among very conservative House Republicans.
Just last year, 43 House Republicans voted in favor of an amendment that reaffirmed a 2014 executive order from President Obama that prohibited businesses that contract with the federal government from discriminating against LGBT people. Upon taking office, the Trump administration made clear that it would keep these nondiscrimination requirements on federal contractors in place. And yet these protections could be completely undermined through this proposed EO.
Among the many prominent voices who have urged President Trump to reject this discriminatory EO is former Republican U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming.
Freedom of religion is one of our most fundamental national values — and something the ACLU fights for every day. But it does not give anyone the right to impose their beliefs on others, to harm others, or to discriminate. President Trump would be well served by listening to the advice of Sen. Simpson and other conservatives who recognize that discrimination against people based on who they are or whom they love must be rejected.