July 11, 2016 at 6:03 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
White House calls ‘religious freedom’ hearing ‘disturbing’
The White House has slammed the upcoming congressional hearing on religious freedom. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The White House has slammed the upcoming congressional hearing on religious freedom. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Tuesday’s congressional hearing on a federal “religious freedom” bill that would enable anti-LGBT discrimination is “disturbing,” a White House spokesperson said Monday.

Jeff Tiller, a White House spokesperson, made the remarks in response to an email request from the Washington Blade to comment on the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform’s controversial hearing on the First Amendment Defense Act.

“We strongly oppose attempts to roll back non-discrimination protections for LGBT Americans,” Tiller said. “It’s disturbing that congressional Republicans plan to hold a hearing tomorrow on discriminatory, anti-LGBT legislation. President Obama remains firmly committed to promoting and defending the equal rights of all Americans, including the rights of LGBT Americans.”

A coalition of 70 groups has called on Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) to cancel the hearing, which is set to take place on the one-month anniversary of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., claiming the lives of 49 people and wounding 53 others. The White House didn’t respond to a follow-up e-mail on whether the Obama administration agrees the hearing should be cancelled.

The Blade has placed a request with the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform seeking comment on the White House statement on the hearing.

The White House issued its statement after Press Secretary Josh Earnest said under questioning from the Blade Monday he was unaware of the First Amendment Defense Act or the upcoming hearing on the legislation.

“I have to admit I’m not aware of the hearing at all, and I’m not sure what bill they’re planning to consider,” Earnest said. “I don’t know anything about the bill, so why don’t you see if I can collect some more information for you and we’ll get back.”

Introduced by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) in the U.S. House and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in the U.S. Senate, the First Amendment Defense Act has the purported purpose of preventing federal government action against individuals and businesses that oppose same-sex marriage for religious reasons. Critics say it essentially carves out a legal exemption for anti-LGBT discrimination.

According to a graphic published on Monday from the Human Rights Campaign, the First Amendment Defense Act would allow companies to circumvent federal protections against anti-LGBT discrimination; permit businesses to withhold benefits from same-sex couples; allow companies to decline to give time off to an employee to care for a same-sex spouse; and permit housing discrimination against same-sex couples.

Witnesses scheduled to testify in favor of the legislation include Labrador and Lee as well as Kelvin Cochran, a former Atlanta fire chief fired for distributing a book making a biblical case against homosexuality; Kristen Waggoner, senior counsel and senior vice president of U.S. legal advocacy for the anti-LGBT Alliance Defending Freedom; and Matthew Franck, a political science professor from the Witherspoon Institute.

Set to testify against the legislation is gay former Rep. Barney Frank; Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit extending marriage equality nationwide; and Katherine Franke, a law professor at Columbia University’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law.

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

    Everything old is new again. Conservative Republicans love to roll back the clock on progress. None of this should be a surprise. It should be a wake up call to stop being complacent and assuming you’re invincible! Get ready it’s going to get a lot more ugly!

  • RidingTheLine

    Although not noted in the article, all 3 members of Congress pushing the bill, Chaffetz, Labrador, and Lee, are active members of the Mormon Church. This is the same old tune Mormons played 8 years ago with Prop 8 in California, only this time, they are playing for keeps at the national level. Both Utah and Idaho have rising levels of LGBT teen homelessness and LGBT teen suicide, and here these guys are trying to bring all that emotional baggage to every state and town in the nation in the name of “religious freedom.”

  • Ooooo

    What is wrong with the republican party!?

    • Kathy11

      everything

  • Mr. Right

    Of course the White house would be on the side of sinners! Obama has polluted this nation.

  • Roy

    This really pisses me off – Of all the crap that should be important – and
    with all of the violence, murder, hate and gun control issues – (hey
    over 20 armed protesters were in the crowd in Dallas, along with dozens
    of armed police – but the good guys with guns couldn’t stop one bad guy with a gun -… it took a robot with a bomb) – and Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador – believes that RELIGIOUS FREEDOM of HATE & DISCRIMINATION be the focal point of our government. — So making a birthday or wedding cake will really harm Christians lives. And a church can demand tax dollars for services, yet deny providing services to anyone paying those tax dollars —- all in the name of protecting their hate & discrimination wrapped in their religion. — Tell me again the term of terrorist fueling propaganda?

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