White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest wouldn’t affirm on Thursday that the Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case would have no impact on a planned executive order barring anti-LGBT bias among federal contractors.
In response to a question from the Washington Blade, Earnest said he has insufficient information to say whether the Hobby Lobby ruling would have an impact on the upcoming executive order. The court decision allows closely held corporations to deny contraception coverage to employees for religious reasons.
“I’m not in a position to indicate to you at this point what measures will be included in the executive order because it’s not been finalized yet,” Earnest said.
A question from the Blade on when more information will be known about the content of the executive order yielded a nearly identical response from Earnest.
“That’s an executive order that’s still being drafted, and so I wouldn’t want to speculate about the contents of that order until it’s been finalized,” Earnest said.
In a letter dated July 1, a group of 14 faith organizations and leaders — including Catholic Charities USA and Saddleback Churck pastor Rick Warren — urge President Obama in the aftermath of the Hobby Lobby decision to include a religious exemption in his planned executive order against LGBT discrimination, which the White House announced last month President Obama would sign. The letter was first reported by The Atlantic.
“An executive order that does not include a religious exemption will significantly and substantively hamper the work of some religious organizations that are best equipped to serve in common purpose with the federal government,” the letter states. “In a concrete way, religious organizations will lose financial funding that allows them to serve others in the national interest due to their organizational identity. When the capacity of religious organizations is limited, the common good suffers.”
A similar request to include a religious exemption in the executive order was already made by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who urged for language along the lines of what’s found in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, legislation to bar anti-LGBT discrimination.
LGBT advocates have already insisted the upcoming executive order include no religious exemption — or none greater than one found in Executive Order 11246, which covers race, color, religion, gender and national origin — and are pushing back against the request made by faith groups in their letter.
Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal, said the claims asserted by religious leaders are “very frightening.”
“What they are saying is, we want to be able to continue to discriminate against LGBT people, and we want to be able to continue to receive government funding to do so,” Davidson said. “They altogether fail to explain why religiously-based opposition to equal treatment regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity should get a pass (and continue to be funded by the government) when religiously-based opposition to racial or sexual equality doesn’t — because there is no explanation other than that those urging this position don’t see LGBT people as equally worthy of protection.”
But the executive order for federal contractors isn’t the only planned executive order related to the LGBT community. During the annual White House Pride reception on Monday, Obama announced he intends to sign a separate executive order that would prohibit discrimination among employees within the federal government on the basis of gender identity.
But Earnest said he had no information about the timing for either of these executive orders when asked by the Blade if they should be expected to be signed or implemented at the same time.
“I don’t know whether or not they’ll be signed at the same time,” Earnest said. “I’m not in a position to offer you any updates in terms of the timing of these executive orders that have been widely discussed now. But as soon as we have an update, we’ll let you know.”
The exchange between the Blade and Earnest follows:
Washington Blade: Josh, I want to follow up on the planned executive order barring LGBT discrimination federal contractors. LGBT advocates are pushing back against a request from faith leaders, including pastor Rick Warren, to include a religious exemption in the measure. When will we have more information about the content of this executive order?
Josh Earnest: Well, Chris, as you know, the president has directed his team to prepare an executive order that would allow him to prohibit federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. That’s an executive order that’s still being drafted, and so I wouldn’t want to speculate about the contents of that order until it’s been finalized.
Blade: But can you at least say at this point if the Hobby Lobby decision requires the administration to include a religious exemption in that order?
Earnest: Again, I’m not in a position to indicate to you at this point what measures will be included in the executive order because it’s not been finalized yet.
Blade: There are two executive order now related to the LGBT community. The president during the Pride reception announced a separate executive order that would bar discrimination against transgender federal employees. Can we at least expect that both of these executive orders will be on the same track for signing and implementation?
Earnest: I don’t know whether or not they’ll be signed at the same time. I’m not in a position to offer you any updates in terms of the timing of these executive orders that have been widely discussed now. But as soon as we have an update, we’ll let you know.