In executive order, Obama bans bias against gays by federal contractors

The order is a compromise between those wanting religious contractors to play by the same rules as everyone else and those who say competing for taxpayer funding should not come at the expense of religious convictions.

By Bob Allen

President Obama signed an executive order July 21 that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. 

president obama“America’s federal contracts should not subsidize discrimination against the American people,” Obama said at a signing ceremony at the White House.

The president declined to include a broad exemption for religious organizations that qualify for federal funds but left standing a narrower exemption introduced by President George W. Bush that faith-based government contractors can consider a person’s religion in hiring decisions.

Civil- and religious-liberties groups including Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty wanted Obama to remove that exemption as well.

“Religious groups have no right to accept taxpayer money and engage in rank forms of discrimination,” Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United, said in a news release. “Faith-based groups that tap the public purse should play by the same rules as everyone else and not expect special treatment.”

Other faith leaders, including Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren, asked Obama for a broad exemption similar to one in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, an LGBT non-discrimination measure not expected to pass Congress anytime soon, allowing religious organizations to fire employees because they are gay.

Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said the Obama administration “persistently violates the freedom of conscience for religious organizations that provide necessary relief for the poor and endangered.”

“The same religious convictions that inspire their social action are the convictions now considered outside the new mainstream of sexual revolutionary fundamentalism,” Moore said. “The ones hurt will be the most vulnerable in our society.”

Observers say the executive order’s impact on faith-based government contractors won’t be clear until the Department of Labor writes regulations for implementation, within 90 days.

Moore said “there are certain to be many faith-based companies and organizations that will not be protected” from the discrimination ban.

Obama said 18 states and more than 200 cities and localities have banned workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identify, and so do a majority of Fortune 500 companies, but Congress has been slow to act.

“It doesn’t make much sense, but today in America, millions of our fellow citizens wake up and go to work with the awareness that they could lose their job, not because of anything they do or fail to do, but because of who they are —  lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender,” the president said. “And that’s wrong. We’re here to do what we can to make it right — to bend that arc of justice just a little bit in a better direction.”

“For more than two centuries, we have strived, often at great cost, to form ‘a more perfect union’ — to make sure that ‘we, the people’ applies to all the people,” the president said. “Many of us are only here because others fought to secure rights and opportunities for us, and we’ve got a responsibility to do the same for future generations.

“We’ve got an obligation to make sure that the country we love remains a place where no matter who you are, or what you look like, or where you come from, or how you started out, or what your last name is, or who you love — no matter what, you can make it in this country.”

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