The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty was among 42 religious, education, civil rights, labor and women’s organizations opposing an amendment to a defense policy bill that would exempt religious organizations from a 2014 executive order by President Obama barring federal contractors from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The House Armed Services Committee voted 32-29 during a late-night markup April 29 for an amendment to the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act offered after midnight by Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.) — a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University and member of First Southern Baptist Church in Del City, Okla. — entitling “any religious corporation, religious association, religious educational institution, or religious society” seeking federal contracts to the same exemptions allowed by federal civil rights law and the Americans Disabilities Act.
The Human Rights Campaign called it a “harmful amendment” that “would strip away existing protections for LGBT workers by undermining President Obama’s executive order on LGBT non-discrimination protections in federal contracting.”
“Evidently some House Republicans want to emulate their state legislative colleagues in undermining legal protections for LGBT Americans,” said HRC government affairs director David Stacy. “House Republican Leadership must get this language out of the bill.”
An April 27 letter from the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination said the Russell Amendment “would authorize taxpayer-funded discrimination in each and every federal contract and grant.”
“The government should never fund discrimination and no taxpayer should be disqualified from a job under a federal contract or grant because he or she is the ‘wrong’ religion,” the coalition said.
The groups said they appreciate the important role that religiously affiliated institutions play in addressing the nation’s most pressing social needs, and many are involved in that work, but “the separation of church and state is the linchpin of religious freedom.”
“In our view, effective government collaboration with faith-based groups does not require the sanctioning of federally funded religious discrimination,” the coalition said.