Conservative Groups Are Now Targeting LGBT People With a Dangerous New Exemption
The news: In the wake of last week's Supreme Court ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, religious groups are already using the decision to push for more exemptions, and one of the worst is already being petitioned for: The right to refuse to hire LGBT people.
The Atlantic reports that a group of faith leaders is petitioning the White House to exempt religious organizations from an upcoming executive action designed to curb anti-LGBT discrimination among companies working on federal contracts. Buoyant on the Hobby Lobby victory, the letter's writers hope that the Supreme Court's decision is a mandate for expanding the concept of religious freedom to include firing and harassing LGBT people they employ.
"We are asking that an extension of protection for one group not come at the expense of faith communities whose religious identity and beliefs motivate them to serve those in need," reads the letter. Organized by 2012 Obama booster Michael Wear, the letter was signed by several administration-friendly figures in the religious community.
"This is not an antagonistic letter by any means," Wear told The Atlantic. But "the administration does have a decision to make whether they want to recalibrate their approach to some of these issues."
The background: While Associate Justice Samuel Alito specifically stated that the ruling didn't set a precedent for "discrimination in hiring, for example on the basis of race," others fear that the decision could allow corporations to radically flaunt regulations if they claim a "sincerely held belief."
"The Supreme Court has ruled that for-profit corporations have religious rights and have accorded them religious exemptions," Constitutional Accountability Center president Doug Kendall said in a statement. "Despite their attempts to qualify that ruling, it opens the floodgates to claims by corporations for religious exemptions." The court didn't provide any direction on which religious objections to medical treatments would be allowed or not.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the federal LGBT anti-discrimination bill, has repeatedly failed to pass through Congress. Meanwhile the Obama administration's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has been enforcing protections for LGBT employees by interpreting Title VII of the Civil Rights Act which bans "sex discrimination" as applying to gay people as well. The Supreme Court's decision has made that interpretation much less tenable.
Yale law professor William Eskridge told Salon, "To extent that Title VII applies to sexual and gender minorities, Hobby Lobby creates a large loophole for religious employers."
Furthermore, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) which bars the government from enacting laws that "substantially burden" religious individuals does not apply to states, where 22 state and 140 local anti-discrimination laws could soon be under assault using religious freedom rhetoric. Courts interpreting state versions of the RFRA will look to the Supreme Court's decision for guidance, and in some states the result will likely be legally protected discrimination against LGBT people.
Why you should care: If you're a member of the LGBT community, you already know why. But even if you're not, you likely have LGBT friends and family even if you don't know it. LGBT people across the country deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, and not be subject to hiding their sexual orientations for fear of reprisal from their employers. But on top of that, this letter is just the first of what will likely be many instances of groups on the religious Right trying to extend the Hobby Lobby decision to limit the rights of minority groups by whatever means possible. It's a scary precedent and we're already seeing just how bad it can be.