December 23, 2015 at 2:32 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Trump gives conditional support for ‘religious freedom’ bill

Donald Trump, Values Voter Summit, gay news, Washington Blade

Donald Trump has given conditional support for the First Amendment Defense Act. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Donald Trump has largely avoided attacks on LGBT people during his presidential campaign unlike other minority groups, but he’s now given conditional support for a religious freedom bill seen to enable anti-LGBT discrimination.

The Republican presidential candidate offered his qualified support for the First Amendment Defense Act in a letter published last week by The Pulse, a conservative media outlet.

“If Congress considers the First Amendment Defense Act a priority, then I will do all I can to make sure it comes to my desk for signatures and enactment,” Trump writes.

The letter was written to the American Principles Project, a social conservative group calling on 2016 candidates to sign a pledge agreeing to push for passage of the First Amendment Defense Act within 100 days of office. Six candidates — Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio and Rick Santorum — signed the pledge, but Trump instead for the first time signaled conditional support for the legislation in the letter.

In the missive, Trump outlines his expected approach to religious freedom if he were to occupy the White House. Making the point the president cannot pass legislation, Trump says he would “certainly sign legislation that protects religious liberty for all.”

Possibly alluding to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in favor of same-sex marriage, Trump says the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment are in “a clear conflict.”

Referencing Section 5 of the 14th Amendment, Trump says Congress, not the courts, have the authority to enforce that provision of the U.S. Constitution.

“The priorities that the next president will need to establish are not known at this time,” Trump writes. “Protection of the nation and its citizens must come first. Getting the economy back on track must be near the top of the list. Preserving and protecting the rights of our citizens must also be in the mix.”

The Trump campaign didn’t respond to repeated requests from the Washington Blade to confirm or deny the veracity of the letter.

Maggie Gallagher, senior fellow at the American Principles Project Foundation, affirmed this week on EWTN, a Catholic news agency, that Trump has given conditional support for the First Amendment Defense Act.

“Donald Trump at least said that he would not veto the legislation, but he would not commit to passing it,” Gallagher said.

The First Amendment Defense Act — introduced by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) in the U.S. House and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in the U.S. Senate — on its face prohibits the federal government from taking action against individuals who oppose same-sex marriage, although “individuals” is defined broadly in the bill to include for-profit businesses.

Critics say the legislation would go further and enable anti-LGBT discrimination — as well as potential bias against single mothers and unmarried couples. Among other things, it would allow government workers to refuse to process paperwork from same-sex couples, such as tax forms and applications, in addition to compromising President Obama’s executive order barring federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBT bias.

Even before signing the pledge, Cruz and Huckabee affirmed they would make passage of the legislation a priority in their first 100 days during separate interviews on EWTN.

According to the American Principles Project, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul and Lindsey Graham — before he dropped out — also signaled they would support the First Amendment Defense Act without the signing. Republicans who refused to comment on whether they support the bill were Chris Christie, John Kasich, George Pataki and Jim Gilmore. None of the Democratic presidential candidates — Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or Martin O’Malley — affirmed support for the bill.

Brandon Lorenz, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said Trump’s position on the First Amendment Defense Act “is deeply troubling.”

“It is a reminder to voters across the country of how important it is to elect a pro-equality president in 2016,” Lorenz added.

Gregory Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republicans, shrugged off the letter, saying in the end it demonstrates why the First Amendment Defense Act won’t become law.

“I’ve said time and again that FADA is a non-starter in its current form; any chance it has of making it to the president’s desk — any president’s desk — would come only after significant amendment,” Angelo said. “In that light, Mr. Trump’s stated deferment of the legislation to congressional leadership makes prospects for FADA passage in a hypothetical Trump administration all the more unlikely.”

Over the course of his campaign, Trump has attacked Mexican immigrants, black activists, Muslims, women and the disabled, but hasn’t made a point of targeting the LGBT community. Even though he’s said he doesn’t favor same-sex marriage, Trump hasn’t made objections to LGBT rights a significant component of his campaign. (In fact, he said during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” people shouldn’t be fired for being gay.)

Angelo denied Trump’s letter represents a shift toward targeting the LGBT community, saying the bigger picture is he and other candidates refused to sign the pledge.

“After a 2012 election cycle that was marred in many respects as ‘the primary of pledges,’ where demands were made of GOP presidential candidates to add their name to all sorts of anti-gay promissory notes, it’s encouraging to see the preponderance of the candidates in this cycle refusing to literally sign away their hopes of attaining this nation’s highest office by making outlandish promises to placate a overzealous fringe of the Party,” Angelo said.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • lnm3921

    Given that Congress is controlled by the GOP, passage of a religious freedom bill has a good chance. Heck they wasted alot of time voting repeatedly to repeal Obamacare despite knowing that Obama would veto it, why wouldn’t they waste time on this?

    As I’ve always said, you can’t trust a GOP Presidential candidate. None will commit to support GLBT freedom and equality. That speaks volumes.

    The fact Trump won’t defend GLBT freedom and equality and is open to signing a religious freedom bill should tell you all you need to know! Vote GOP and you screw yourself and not in a pleasant way!

    • Brian’s Ions

      Chris concisely noted ‘the Donald status’ on LGBT rights. And it’s not really surprising. Trump is a New Yorker, after all– and a former Democrat, I think.

      Anyway, the Empire State arrived at Marriage Equality through a popular, political state process. That’s an important distinction for many, if not most Republican voters. And it is a ‘fact on the ground’ that certainly isn’t lost on any Republican pol of stature.

      Likewise, SCOTUS’ landmark Marriage Equality decision this year– which was decided by, and written by a solid Republican jurist, Justice Anthony Kennedy, has not been lost in the GOP ether. And what Republican politician is not aware that big time *conservative* Republican Ted Olson is also a robust supporter of Marriage Equality?

      So, I think Angelo’s assessment of the shifting political sands in the wacky GOP field is pretty accurate, too. Of course, that is very much steered by Trump’s dominance of GOP voter support at this point.

      The truth is LCR has had little but Republican Party ‘tea leaf’ minutia to read– for virtually all of its existence. So they’re pretty good at it.

      And it is good for all LGBTs that Republican LGBT activists have found a credible place in the GOP’s overstretched “big tent.”

      As an American Democrat, I don’t really want my party’s best candidates to be challenged by little more than lightweight bigots of a political party with fringe support.

      IMHO, the Democratic Party and its leadership develop better ideas and is made stronger by thoughtful, credible conservative opposition.

      The GOP circus tent– now filled with too many bigots– has become too wild and too unmanageable. It has been ripping apart for some time, now. Hopefully national Republicans like Ryan, Kasich and even Christie can, with the help of LCR, help stitch together a credible successor to a once honorable political party.
      ————-
      **
      Over the course of his campaign, Trump has attacked Mexican immigrants, black activists, Muslim, women and the disabled, but hasn’t made a point of targeting the LGBT community. Even though he’s said he doesn’t favor of same-sex marriage, Trump hasn’t made objections to LGBT rights a significant component of his campaign.**

      • lnm3921

        Kennedy maybe conservative on some issues but would be described as liberal on gay issues. All the other 4 conservatives on the court wrote dissenting opinions against a constitutional right to marriage equality. Was that lost by you? Besides Kennedy is not running for office!

        LRC like most gay GOP supporters are no more than lap dogs that roll over and wag their tails for any bone of attention from party leaders. I’ve seen several post on the blade that show nothing but contempt for our struggles for equality. Some have said they oppose a federal equality act and that we should move on now that we have marriage equality as if that is our only issue of concern.

        Just because trump has not bashed glbt Americans during his campaign doesn’t mean he won’t. He simply has not had the need so far. He’s bashed several others for political gain and showmanship so why should we be an exemption? No GOP contender including trump is promoting our welfare openly! The social conservatives will not tolerate it and they need their approval to get the nomination. Get a grip Pollyanna!

        I have no trust in republican politicians.

        • Brian’s Ions

          I understand. You are very much the angry LGBT Democratic “base” voter demographic that Hillary (or Bernie or Martin) want to “stir” to go vote in the general next November.

          Every warm body is important, because getting to 270 in the general is a matter of winning enough winner-takes-all states. Trump (et al), conversely, will want you to stay home in protest– or jump ship and vote Trump.

          But politics is both art and science. And it does not end with the final election of a cycle. Rather, a new two-year cycle begins the day after that election.

          For LGBTQ civil rights in 2017, that will mean persuading congressman and senators of both parties to vote for a comprehensive LGBT national civil rights bill.

          Shouldn’t the larger task of good Democrats be to civilly *persuade* Republicans and Independents to the urgent need for such a law?

          Shouldn’t LGBT Dems, too, want GOP anti-LGBT bigots to stay home– and pro-LGBT and equal-rights Republicans to vote for Hillary?

          You missed my larger point in my last post. Many Republican leaders and registered voters have always favored LGBT civil rights. That’s not Pollyannish. It’s just an historic and political fact you’d rather not admit.

          Why not try to persuade them to (1) jump ship and become registered Democrats this year, or (2) vote for Democrats next November, or (3) vote with their feet by staying home?

          • lnm3921

            First of all, I often find myself voting for the lesser of two evils. It’s not that dems are necessarily so much better only that republicans are so much worse on our issues.

            Nancy pelosi and Harry Reid squandered an opportunity to get all our bills up for a vote when they had control of congress and we have a sitting president willing to approve them with excuses!

            John boehner wouldn’t allow ENDA to get a fair up and down vote in the house saying there was no need for such legislation. Do you honestly expect to fair any better with Ryan or McConnell in controll of congress who have never supported us?

            Face it, except for hate crimes and ending DADT, all our gains have been through the judiciary!

            Those of us going through this for decades know the score and the reality. You go try and win over a party that still refuses to change its platform to endorse our civil rights and promote them rather than oppose them in particular over religious freedom grounds.

            Whether or not a majority supports our rights now seems irrelevant to a vocal and influential group of social conservatives who will do everything to block us from achieving them. They will demand the GOP leadership not support us and threaten to splinter off their support if the GOP does! The GOP cares more about that than us!

          • Brian’s Ions

            We agree on many things. And when we don’t, I always enjoy the joust, Inm.
            ;)
            Have a merry couple of days, however you observe them. Cheers!

          • lnm3921

            Same to you!

            Have to break up the daily monotony somehow,

          • Brian’s Ions

            Hey, don’t worry about Trump– unless the Prez and Comey can not interdict what evil may already have slipped into ISIS’ made-for-America terrorist pipeline.

            Trump jumped 10 points after Paris and San Bernadino– merely because he *appeared* to have the strongest and ‘electable’ response to ISIS.

            But the Prez appears to be paying attention to national security concerns again. Ergo, that’s not likely to besmirch Hillary’s effort.

            National security concerns aside, Trump’s high-water mark is probably only 40 to 45%– simply because he has personally alienated 55% or more of the country.

            A solid, Trump-at-the-helm GOP watershed defeat could result in another 2009/2010-like governing opportunity for Hillary. That would be very good for LGBT efforts for comprehensive civil rights law.

            Still, no one should expect Hillary to make the same ‘top priority’ timing mistake Bill made in ’93. Obama’s handling of DADT repeal would likely be her model.

            A lifetime of learned political savvy matters. Hillary has that, big time.

    • Randi

      And he just recently was recorded saying “One country under One god” which sounds like he will push the total first amendment out of the constitution since he wants to muzzle the press so bad, KEEP AMERICA RUSSIAN AGAIN

  • Lauravan

    Religious freedom is an oxymoron. The illusion that religions need more freedom is an attempt by the religious right to assert more control over the congressional process.

    • Randi

      it is a cover for discrimination and intended for white male hetro christians ONLY

  • Jimmy Ray, Jr.

    What about the “anti-heterosexual” (normal people) legislation the pro lgbtq legislation usurps? How did we allow that to happen?

    • Saadus

      Wasnt aware that people were denied housing and food because they were straight. Can you link me to such a situation?

  • blacknblue2

    The term religious right always begs the question, what is on the other end of the line? Is the far left anti-religious. The Church of Satan is defiantly not on the right so would it be on the left? Would those left beliefs be closer or further from this? “indulgence instead of abstinence!”

    Surely the far right religious would never be for indulgence instead of abstinence. Therefore using a bit of Spinoza deduction the far left would be closer to indulgence instead of abstinence than the those on the religious right.

    The statement is from the Church of Satan. The Church of Satan is a religion and has it rights to say this – “The Satanic Bible, Satan represents indulgence instead of abstinence!”

    So if you are a person that leans left, that leans to indulgence instead of abstinence which religion has the same belief, the right or the left? Just a thought for those that use talking points of left or right.

  • Nvratalos4words ™

    so you want me to do something against my will! think about it. If a church said they don’t do a gay marriage because of their beliefs, then what’s the difference between that and being made to do it by the government. One persons belief should not push out other beliefs to get what they want. This bill is the compromise. Will people abuse it, yes, just like our government abuses laws and let’s killer cops keep their job. Wake up. All this is rhetoric, would info did they give that proves any of these. One person’s word against another, no facts here! only opinions!!!

    • Sofa_King_Cold

      That’s the thing, Churches have always had the right to not perform a ceremony. However, if you work for a state agency your religion should be left at the door.

      • Mystdragon

        The first Amendment protects freedom of RELIGION, not freedom of WORSHIP. Remember why it was made and you will understand what it means.

  • Randi

    he promised the LGBTQ community he would protect them now he is a lying turn coat just like every thing he has said

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