License To Discriminate?: Some Obama Allies Demand Religious-Based Exemption From Pending LGBT Order

We hope that the Obama Administration will not cave to these calls for another religious exemption for groups that simply don’t want to play by the rules required for organizations taking government money. But be warned: This is only the beginning of religious demands for exemptions from laws that have nothing to do with health care.

As we continue to observe fallout in the wake of the Hobby Lobby decision, which curtails workers’ access to birth control, it seems an unexpected problem has emerged: Some allies of President Barack Obama want exemptions from laws, too.

Just like the Religious Right, which has long sought to skirt laws that it doesn’t like (such as the Affordable Care Act mandate that most employers must provide free birth control in employee insurance plans), now it appears a group that includes some allies of the Obama administration doesn’t want to comply with an upcoming executive order that would stop anyone with a federal contract from discriminating against LGBT people when hiring.

In a letter sent the day after Hobby Lobby was handed down, 14 religious leaders, including Gordon College (Mass.) President D. Michael Lindsay, who was the national faith vote director of Obama for America 2012, protested their required compliance with the future order.

“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,” the letter says.

Really? Not allowing taxpayer dollars to be used for discrimination is bad for the “common good” and “national unity”? It would seem impossible to imagine a scenario in which harming an entire group of people simply because of who they are is a positive thing.  

And yet these religious leaders, including the fervently anti-gay Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Ranch in California, attempted to justify their position by claiming that religious belief is harmed when people don’t have the right to discriminate.

“Our concern about an executive order without a religious exemption is about more than the direct financial impact on religious organizations,” the letter continues. “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.”

Although the letter made no mention of Hobby Lobby, it’s clear the group will be using the case to justify demands for religious-based exemptions from all sorts of laws.

“The administration does have a decision to make whether they want to recalibrate their approach to some of these issues,” letter signee Michael Wear, an evangelical Christian who headed the Obama 2012 campaign’s outreach to that group, told The Atlantic.

While it certainly must be a disappointment to Obama that some of his own allies are opposing him on the issue of hiring discrimination, it should come as no great surprise. Although Justice Samuel A. Alito tried to paint the Hobby Lobby decision as only addressing religious-based exemptions from the contraceptive mandate, many observers, including attorneys at Americans United, believe the high court didn’t close the door for other religious exemptions from various laws.

Indeed, we fear the decision might embolden businesses to attempt to use the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law intended to shield religious minorities from burdens upon their beliefs caused by federal laws, to try to supersede all sorts of anti-discrimination laws.

We hope that the Obama Administration will not cave to these calls for another religious exemption for groups that simply don’t want to play by the rules required for organizations taking government money. But be warned: This is only the beginning of religious demands for exemptions from laws that have nothing to do with health care.

Strap yourself in. This will be a bumpy ride.