Unwilling to wait for Congress to pass the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, Obama signed an executive order Monday prohibiting organizations with federal contracts from discriminating against employees who identify themselves as gay, lesbian, or transgender.
For religious freedom advocates, that could pose a major problem. Obama’s order does not provide an exemption for religious organizations, whereas the ENDA bill before Congress does.
Carmen Fowler LaBerge — president of the Presbyterian Layman Committee — set aside her ordination in the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. after the General Assembly opened the door for gays and lesbians to be ordained as ministers in 2010. LaBerge, who defines herself as pro-traditional marriage, believes Obama’s executive order for LGBT non-discrimination will actually discriminate against religious organizations with federal contracts.
“Clearly nobody is in favor of discrimination, so using that language is intended to stir the pot,” LaBerge said in an interview with The Daily Caller Monday. “The question is how do you hold sincerely held religious beliefs that limit sexual expression to certain relationships and forms in balance with what the government now views as its legitimate role and in defending the rights of a particular group of people. You have a special interest group on both hands, and you have the government clearly favoring one group over another.”
Obama signed an executive order to get what he wanted without waiting for Congress, and that is troubling, LaBerge told TheDC.
“I’m going to assume that the president signed what he signed in order to prevent ENDA from passing with religious exemption, because then the two would be in direct conflict,” LaBerge told TheDC. “I would assume that the Supreme Court would have to be the arbiter of those two. You’d have a law that was an executive order, and a law passed by Congress, and the Supreme Court would have to work that out.”
The Family Research Council’s Senior Fellow for Policy Studies Peter Sprigg released a statement saying there is definitely cause for alarm amongst religious groups.
“Religious faith is not simply a matter of intellectual affirmation but of active practice,” Sprigg said. “A religious organization which is denied the power to require its employees to conduct their lives in a way consistent with the teachings of their faith is an organization which is being denied the right to exercise its religion, period. People with deeply held convictions regarding the morality of certain types of sexual behavior should not be bound by the dictates of President Obama’s agenda.”
LaBerge claims the reason the Obama administration is taking advantage of Christians’ uncertainty and lack of confidence on the issue.
“Obama has heard counsel from Christians supporting what he’s doing and not supporting what he’s doing,” LaBerge told TheDC. “The disunity among Christians is allowing for this kind of confusion and action by the government. You look at the July 2 letter on this subject to the president from a diverse group of religious leaders and and the July 15 letter from an equally diverse group of religious leaders, and while the July 2 letter says, ‘please include the religious exemption,’ you look at the July 15 letter that says, ‘don’t listen to those wingnuts, listen to us instead.’ The disunity among the religious people is allowing the government to do what it’s doing.”
Sprigg says the lack of proper religious freedom also has serious economic consequences.
“The President’s policies are keeping the economy in the tank,” Sprigg said. “He strangled the financial and health sectors by passing a health care law that’s trampling employers’ freedom and crushing their bottom lines. Now, as if those burdens weren’t enough, the President’s party wants to tell companies how they should run their businesses, and how they can and cannot practice their moral convictions and religious faith.”
If Christians and other religious Americans, including Jews and Muslims, are going to make any headway on the issue of religious freedom, LaBerge said, then they must advocate their position on the personal and legislative levels.
“I think you have to do both,” LaBerge told TheDC. “I think this is an issue that has to be addressed on all fronts simultaneously.”