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Citing ‘Hobby Lobby,’ Religious Groups Ask Obama for LGBT Exemptions

Emily Crockett

Fourteen faith leaders, including many who have been allies of the administration, are urging the president to include a religious exemption in his upcoming executive order that will ban federal contractors from employment discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

Read more of our coverage on the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases here.

In recent days, Rewire has reported on how the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby case may unleash a flood of other corporate religious objections to public policy, and how the ruling could be used to discriminate against LGBT people. A letter to the Obama administration from a group of faith leaders indicates that these predictions could already be coming true.

Fourteen faith leaders, including many who have been allies of the administration, are urging the president to include a religious exemption in his upcoming executive order that will ban federal contractors from employment discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

It is not known whether or not the executive order will include such an exemption, but the faith leaders did not wait to find out. Michael Wear, who organized the letter and worked in the Obama White House, told Molly Ball of The Atlantic that it was “not an antagonistic letter by any means,” but that the Hobby Lobby decision means the administration has “a decision to make whether they want to recalibrate their approach to some of these issues.”

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Hobby Lobby likely has no immediate policy implication on Obama’s forthcoming executive order, as it concerned closely held for-profit corporations with religious owners. The authors of the letter pointed to a broad religious exemption in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act pending in Congress, which would apply to all employers, not just federal contractors, and exempt groups such as churches, religious-service groups, and religious newspapers. LGBT advocates fear that such an exemption could provide a license to discriminate.

Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, asserted that the ruling in Hobby Lobby should not be taken as grounds to challenge anti-discrimination laws. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was unconvinced, questioning in her dissent why the Religious Freedom Restoration Act could grant a religious exception for the contraceptive mandate but not for anti-discrimination laws.

Just one day after the ruling came down, it became evident that Hobby Lobby would be more broad than initially thought and apply to the entire birth control benefit, not just the four methods Hobby Lobby’s owners objected to.

“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,” the letter from the faith leaders read. “We must find a way to respect diversity of opinion.”

Meanwhile, as Dianna E. Anderson noted for Rewire, any version of Obama’s executive order will still not be enough to fully address anti-LGBT discrimination in the workplace.

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