White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer denied Thursday President Trump would sign a “religious freedom” order enabling sweeping anti-LGBT discrimination — at least for the time being — by asserting a directive along those lines won’t be signed “right now.”
Spicer made the remarks under questioning from CBS News’ Major Garrett on a draft executive order circulating among federal advocacy groups that would green light discrimination on the basis of the religious objections to same-sex marriage, premarital sex, abortion and transgender status.
“There is right now no executive orders that are official or able to read out,” Spicer said. “We maintain that. There’s nothing new on that front. There are a lot of ideas that are being floated out. I mentioned this the last couple days, but that doesn’t mean — part of it as the president does all the time, he asks for input, he asks for ideas, and on a variety of subjects, there are staffing procedures where people have a thought, or an idea, and it goes through the process, but until the president makes up his mind and gives feedback and decides that that’s final, there’s nothing to announce.”
The draft order — first reported by The Nation and obtained by the Washington Blade — became public around the time Trump spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast amid speculation the president would sign the order and unveil it to the audience, which typically consists of social conservatives who may welcome policy on “religious freedom” enabling anti-LGBT discrimination.
Spicer downplayed the possibility Trump would sign the executive order after responding to another question from the Christian Broadcasting Network’s Jennifer Wishon, who referenced Trump’s speech at the breakfast and asked about ways the president could ease the perceived tension between religious freedom and government mandates.
Acknowledging “a line” between the two areas, Spicer said “we have freedom of religion in this country,” which allows people to “practice their religion, express their religion and express areas of their faith without reprisal.”
“And I think that pendulum sometimes swings the other way in the name of political correctness, and I think the president and the vice president both understand that one of the things that makes this country, our democracy so great is our ability to express our religion, to believe a faith, to express it, to live by it,” Spicer said.
Spicer added “the important part” of religious freedom is allowing a “small business owner or employee who wants to have a degree of expression of faith at the company.”
“Too often those voices gets pushed out in the name of political correctness,” Spicer said. “So he’s going to continue to make sure that we not only speak up for it, but find ways in which we can keep that line a little less blurred and make sure that the pendulum doesn’t swing against people.”
Spicer added, “We shouldn’t impose a religion on anybody. We’re free to express a religion or not have one. That’s obviously … an equally valid way of living your life, but at the same time, I think people who want to express their faith shouldn’t be ostracized because they want to live that.”
Amid LGBT rights advances, the issue of “religious freedom” has risen to the fore as states have considered measures that would institute religious carve-outs for individuals and businesses seeking to engage in discrimination. On the same day as the Thursday news briefing, the Republican-controlled Virginia House of Delegates approved a measure that critics say would give taxpayer-funded agencies and service providers a license to discriminate against LGBT people in the name of “religious freedom.”
Asked by CBS News about whether the pendulum has swung too far against religious freedom, Spicer pointed to lawsuits filed by Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor against the contraception mandate in Obamacare.
“I think there’s several businesses, several institutions, Catholic institutions and others that have been mandated or apparently attempted to mandate certain things that they may or may not do, or how they have to treat their employees,” Spicer said. “Those are instances where clearly the pendulum swinging a different way, where you are not carving out institutions or the ability for privately held businesses to conduct themselves to their faith or their moral compass. So there’s clearly a lot of evidence in the last couple years of the government coming in with regulations and policies that have frankly denied people the ability to live according to their faith.”
Asked to clarify whether those kinds of mandates amount to discrimination, Spicer said, “I think it’s a pendulum, and where the president is he wants to make sure you don’t penalize someone for wanting to express their faith and to the extent that we can keep that line a little less blurred and allow people who don’t believe in a faith or have an opposing faith, making sure that they are equally comfortable in the workplace.”
“But we shouldn’t penalize people or make them abide by certain policies or regulations, which are in direct contradiction to their faith,” Spicer concluded.