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Friday, February 10, 2017

What A Broad Religious Exemption To Discrimination Laws Will Mean

While the Trump Administration announced that it would keep in place President Obama's Executive Order protecting employees of federal contractors from LGBT discrimination, there have been reports of another proposed executive order that would provide a religious exemption from all discrimination laws.
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.”

If signed this Executive Order could conceivably be used to argue exemptions to race and sex discrimination laws as well as LGBT discrimination. While I don't think the President (who is not king or dictator, yet) can change existing laws with the stroke of a pen, this could result in years of litigation on these issues.

There are certainly many (if not most) religions that consider women to be second-class citizens. Some religions believe women should be subordinate to men, should not work outside the home, and/or should cover themselves from head to toe. Will the Administration be so intent on allowing LGBT discrimination that they forget about women's rights?

Indeed, the Bible was used for years to argue in favor of race discrimination and slavery. Such a broad exemption could be used to justify race discrimination by certain religious groups.

On the other hand, it would be conceivable that someone (maybe John Oliver, Trevor Noah or Samantha Bee) could form a religion to counter all this nonsense. A religion that says it is sinful to discriminate against LGBT, Muslim and other oppressed communities; that it is sinful to participate in oppressing the poor; that it is sinful to participate in increasing wage disparities; that it is sinful to deny excellent education to the poor and middle class; that it is sinful to employ people who would participate in such activities. Some religions already hold similar beliefs.

What would be the effect of such a religion? State and federal employees who were members could use a religious justification to refuse to enforce or participate in enforcement of any laws or policies that are against their religious beliefs. Closely-held for-profit corporations could refuse to employ anyone who held homophobic views, voted for Trump or walk around with Ayn Rand books. I'm betting that those who want to use their religion to discriminate would be the first to howl at such practices.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander. A broad religious exemption to discrimination laws might not have the effect Mr. Trump and his cronies are looking for. Be careful what you wish for.