WASHINGTON — The pastor who caused an uproar from LGBT advocates when President Obama asked him to speak at his inauguration is now asking the president to exempt those with religious beliefs from an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT people.
Rick Warren has joined forces with the head of Catholic Charities and others in asking President Obama to "include a religious exemption in your planned executive order addressing federal contractors and LGBT employment policies." The Atlantic first reported on the letter earlier Wednesday.
LGBT advocates have pressed for a limited religious exemption or no religious exemption in the order, but others, like Sen. Orrin Hatch, have said an exemption similar to that included in the version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed by the Senate last fall is needed.
Warren, the senior pastor at California's Saddleback Church, has a mixed history with President Obama. After being asked to deliver the invocation at Obama's first inauguration, Warren later decried the president's policies in 2012 as "intentionally infring[ing] upon religious liberties."
Now, with Obama having announced that he has directed his staff to prepare an executive order to protect LGBT employees of federal contractors from employment discrimination, Warren has joined up with a group of religious leaders and religiously affiliated individuals to urge the president to include a religious exemption in the order.
Of the planned order, the group writes, "[W]e 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. ... Without a robust religious exemption, like the provisions in the Senate-passed ENDA, this expansion of hiring rights will come at an unreasonable cost to the common good, national unity and religious freedom."
Although The Atlantic reported that the person who organized the letter, Michael Wear, said that the letter is not "antagonistic," he added that, following this week's Supreme Court decision in Hobby Lobby, "the administration does have a decision to make whether they want to recalibrate their approach to some of these issues."
Asked about the letter, White House spokesman Shin Inouye repeated a line from recent days when asked about the order, saying only, "I don't have any details to share about the specifics of an Executive Order."
The Human Rights Campaign's vice president, Fred Sainz, however, did speak out, telling BuzzFeed, "LGBT activists have every expectation that the EO will contain no further religious exemption other than the very broad one that is in there already — and there is certainly nothing in Hobby Lobby to suggest that there should be one."
The exemption to which Sainz is referring is that contained in an executive order signed by former President George W. Bush in 2002. In the executive order, Bush stated that contractors that are a "religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society" are exempted from the existing federal contractor executive order's nondiscrimination requirements "with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such corporation, association, educational institution, or society of its activities." Those contractors are not exempted from other requirements in the order.
The existing federal contractor executive order bars federal contractors who do more than $10,000 worth of federal work in a year from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The White House has not said whether it intends to amend Executive Order 11246 to include sexual orientation and gender identity or create a new executive order specifically to cover the two categories.
Chris Geidner is a Supreme Court correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Chris Geidner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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