The Corner

The White House’s Continued Disregard for Religious Liberty

Whether it is stubbornness against the protests of Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor, or the errant adoption of such phrases as “freedom of worship” in place of “freedom of religion,” the White House seems determined to apportion out the exercise of religion according to how it sees fit.

Today, the White House went farther down this path, signing an executive order inserting the categories of gender identity to preexisting federal workforce discrimination laws, while also banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity for employees of federal contractors.

According to the text, the order will have no broad religious exemption, despite calls for such from a broad coalition of religious leaders (no doubt a decision influenced by the protests of key gay-rights activist groups). Instead, it amends Executive Order 11246 protecting federal contractors’ employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It also adds gender identity as a protected category under Executive Order 11478, a federal workforce nondiscrimination order. President George W. Bush had previously amended executive order 11246 in 2002, giving federal contractors with religious affiliation the right to prioritize religion in the hiring process. The Bush amendment remains in place.

Of course, the executive order is not without its problems.

Today’s actions demonstrate the continued, cavalier disregard for religious liberty emanating from the Obama White House. Any talk of religious liberty coming from this administration continues to be mere lip service. Add this to the parade of horribles that already includes the coercive HHS mandate.

The full implications of the executive order aren’t entirely known. While the effects of the order could prove to be limited given the unknown number of religiously oriented federal contractors, activists who favored the executive order don’t care. While favoring more expansive LGBT workplace protections, activists are willing to accept incremental gains where they can get them.

The White House’s executive order is a tactical move to bring what will surely be further sweeping regulations, such as the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), into law. Today’s actions hasten the coming marginalization of institutions such as Gordon College, a Massachusetts college facing scrutiny after its president, Michael Lindsay, affixed his name to a letter with other religious leaders asking for broad exemption within the executive order.

What the executive order communicates is that the fundamentalism of the sexual revolution is no longer revolutionary but the status quo, and this seems to be the case with ever-increasing ascendency.

Religious groups — whether contractors, grant recipients, non-profits, educational institutions — have no desire to single out gay persons for discrimination. Most reasonable individuals stand firm in the belief that an individual’s sexual orientation matters little to nothing with respect to his job performance. Rather, what these groups desire to do is to conduct their vocations in a manner consistent with their beliefs.

The decision by the Obama administration to include the ambiguous, fluid categories of sexual orientation and gender identity into non-discrimination law for federal contractors produces a legal juggernaut. The executive order will likely threaten the long-term prospects of religiously oriented federal contractors to pursue their callings with integrity. By his actions, President Obama has tipped the scales more toward the expressive individualism of sexual liberty, over and against the constitutional guarantee of religious liberty. The sexual revolution marches on; and it doesn’t allow for dissenters.

— Andrew Walker is the director of policy studies for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. 

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