100 Faith Leaders Urge Obama Not To Allow Exemption From LGBT Bias Rule

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On Tuesday, President Obama received a letter from 100 religious clergy, theologians and faith leaders urging him not to allow religious exemptions in a forthcoming executive order that would prohibit federal contractors from using hiring policies that discriminate against those in the LGBT community.

In June, Obama had announced his intention to protect LGBT Americans who work for federal contractors with an executive order. When religious organizations heard this, some began to put pressure on the administration to excuse faith groups with government contracts from the order. Those organizations felt that because some faiths do not yet fully embrace LGBT equality, they should have the option to opt out while still being able to use federal funds. However, the 100 religious signers behind Tuesday’s letter countered this position and insisted that the government maintain a high standard of ethics and inclusiveness – especially since taxpayer money is involved.

The letter stated:

“As faith and civic leaders dedicated to affirming the sacred dignity and equal worth of every person, we are grateful for your upcoming executive order ending discrimination against LGBT people in hiring by federal contractors.We urge you not to include a religious exemption in the executive order. In keeping with the principle that our government must adhere to the highest standards of ethics and fairness in its own operations, we believe that public dollars should not be used to sanction discrimination.”

“Furthermore, if selective exemptions to the executive order were permitted, the people who would suffer most would be the people who always suffer most when discrimination is allowed: the individuals and communities that are already marginalized.” [source]

A few of the letter’s signers were Very Rev. Gary Hall, Dean of the Washington National Cathedral, Bishop Melvin Talbert of the United Methodist Church, and Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary in New York City – all prominent Christian voices and clergy. Also among the signers were four members of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships along with five members of a presidential taskforce to reform the office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

One of the signers, Bishop Gene Robinson – the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church – said in a press release:

“It is not right for any person or any corporation to use their religious beliefs, no matter how sincerely held, to trample the rights and beliefs of others. Nothing could be more contrary to the Golden Rule, articulated in every world religion.” [source]

The Tuesday letter to the president is a direct counterpoint to the several letters from faith leaders that favor the religious exemption. On June 25th, 140 conservative religious leaders requested that President Obama allow the exemption to help groups who “simply desire to utilize staffing practices consistent with their deep religious convictions.” Just a few days later, another group of 14 Christian leaders sent a letter to the president about allowing faith groups to ignore his executive order.

Despite the efforts of these conservative religious leaders, progressive people of faith are firm in their opposition to a religious exemption. Last week, Faithful America – a Christian online advocacy group – posted an online petition blasting the exemption. The petitioned gained over 30,000 signatures by people of faith.

This support for equality, in addition to the letter sent to the president on Tuesday, reflects the increasingly pro-LGBT attitude of the general public. According to a June poll by the First Amendment Center, the majority of Americans are not conflicted between recognizing same-sex marriages and “religious freedom.”