President Barack Obama plans to sign executive orders Monday prohibiting discrimination against gay and transgender workers in the federal government and its contracting agencies, without a new exemption that was requested by some religious organizations.
Obama’s action comes on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the Hobby Lobby case that allowed some religiously oriented businesses to opt out of the federal health care law’s requirement that contraception coverage be provided to workers at no extra charge. Senior administration officials said Friday that ruling has no impact on non-discrimination policies in federal hiring and contracting.
They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the plans publicly.
Since Obama announced last month that he would sign the orders, he’s faced pressure from opposing flanks over the religious exemption and given no indication of where he would come down. Many religious leaders and conservative groups wanted him to exempt religious organizations from the order, while liberal clergy and gay advocacy groups adamantly opposed such an exemption.
You’ll remember that a group of religious leaders, lay and ordained, who are friendly to Obama wrote him on July 1 to ask him for a religious exemption. From the letter:
Often, in American history–and, indeed, in partnership with your Administration–government and religious organizations have worked together to better serve the nation.An executive order that does not include a religious exemption will significantly and substantively hamper the work of some religious organizations that are best equipped to serve in common purpose with the federal government. In a concrete way, religious organizations will lose financial funding that allows them to serve others in the national interest due to their organizational identity. When the capacity of religious organizations is limited, the common good suffers.
But our concern about an executive order without a religious exemption is about more than the direct financial impact on religious organizations. While the nation has undergone incredible social and legal change over the last decade, we still live in a nation with different beliefs about sexuality. We must find a way to respect diversity of opinion on this issue in a way that respects the dignity of all parties to the best of our ability. There is no perfect solution that will make all parties completely happy.As we know you understand, a religious exemption in this executive order would not guarantee that religious organizations would receive contracts. Instead, a religious exemption would simply maintain that religious organizations will not be automatically disqualified or disadvantaged in obtaining contracts because of their religious belief.
Today, the president signaled his intention to refuse. And so Christian and other religious groups that receive federal money to do things like feed the poor will have to decide between Christ and Caesar. The march to progress continues. Traditional religious believers are pushed ever more fully out of the public square. Your president, speaking on behalf of your government, thinks you are too tainted by bigotry to be trusted with government contracts.
I’ve been telling y’all for years now that the advance of gay rights will come at the expense of religious liberty. This is a prime example. Note that the pro-Obama religious leaders weren’t asking Obama not to issue the executive order banning discrimination against gays in federal contracting; they were only asking for tolerance for religious organizations that serve the public good, but cannot for reasons of religious principle obey the new dictate. There will be no toleration. Error has no rights.
This is a good time to point you to a Christianity Today analysis by law professor John Inazu, forecasting the world orthodox Christians and other religious traditionalists face on the religious liberty front. It’s really important to read this sober, and sobering, essay, especially his three predictions for where the law is headed. Excerpt:
Prediction #3: Fewer and fewer people will value religious freedom. Although some Christians will respond to looming challenges with appeals to religious liberty, their appeals will likely face indifference or even hostility from those who don’t value it. The growing indifference is perhaps unsurprising because many past challenges to religious liberty are no longer active threats. We don’t enforce blasphemy laws. We don’t force people to make compelled statements of belief. We don’t impose taxes to finance training ministers. These changes mean that in practice, many Americans no longer depend upon the free exercise right for their religious liberty. They are free to practice their religion without government constraints.
Additionally, a growing number of atheists and “nonreligious” Americans have little use for free exercise protections. Even though most Americans will continue to value religious liberty in a general sense, fewer will recognize the immediate and practical need for it to be protected by law.
This final prediction is deeply unsettling, because strong protections for religious liberty are core to our country’s law and history. But those protections have been vulnerable since the Court’s decision in the peyote case. And they will remain vulnerable unless the Court revisits its free exercise doctrine.
Welcome to post-Christian America.
UPDATE: Reader JB writes:
What I find most unnerving is that the executive order ostensibly allows religious groups to prioritize their co-religionists in hiring decisions. But if you ask employees to abide by a code of conduct consistent with organization’s values (e.g. no sex outside of heterosexual marriage, etc.), that would presumably violate the law.
Thus, it’s reasonable to conclude that the administration is saying that refusing to hire someone engaging in sexual sin (as an organization perceives it) is an illegitimate expression of a particular system of belief. In other words, “There are plenty of Christian organizations that have no problem hiring LGBT staff. Why can’t the rest of you just get with the times?”
This is an attempt to use the law to settle a theological/ethical dispute within Christianity and other belief systems, with the goal of marginalizing those on the traditional side. What’s most discouraging is that many progressive Christians see no problem with this use of government coercion.
And by the way, I used the word ‘bigots’ in the subject line because Obama’s order implicitly calls those religious organizations whose faith requires them to believe that there is something sinful about homosexuality bigots — if “bigot” means someone who holds an irrational prejudice and wishes to act on it. This is the principle on which the current phase of the culture war on religion will be waged. On his tumblr, Alan Jacobs posts a quote from T.S. Eliot that I find highly relevant just now: Excerpt:
Christians are still persecuted but nowadays not usually overtly on the ground that they are Christians. They are persecuted because they do not hold the approved political views; or one church is recognized and controlled, and those Christians are persecuted who belong to the wrong church; or being Christians, they are denounced for having collaborated with the Germans during the war, or perhaps with the British or the Americans after it. In the West these things do not yet happen. But persecution is only the extreme limit of discrimination. People prefer to associate with the like-minded to themselves; those who rise to power tend to favor and to promote those who resemble themselves; and when a man who is not a Christian has an appointment to make, or a favor to bestow, he may genuinely believe that the candidate who is of his own kidney is more worthy than another candidate who is a Christian.
Thus the profession of Christianity might become, if not exactly dangerous, at least disadvantageous; and it is sometimes harder to endure disadvantage than to face danger, harder to live meanly than to die as a martyr. Already, we say, we are a minority. We cannot impose our standards upon that majority when it explicitly rejects them; too often, mingling with that majority, we fail to observe them ourselves. Like every minority, we compound with necessity, learning to speak the language of the dominant culture because those whose language it is will not speak ours; and in speaking their language, we are always in danger of thinking their thoughts and behaving according to their code. In this perpetual compromise, we are seldom in a position to pass judgment on other Christians, in their peculiar individual temptations: it is hard enough, reviewing our own behavior, to be sure when we have done the right or the wrong thing. But we can and should be severe in our judgment of ourselves.
Do not yield. Do not submit. Do not go along to get along. This is the challenge for individual orthodox Christians (and Muslims, and Jews). It always was, but much more so today.