President Trump signed a “religious liberty” executive order on Tuesday that aims bolster faith groups’ influence in the government. Advocates say the order could be used to shield groups looking to discriminate against queer people.
The new White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative, which was created by the presidential memorandum, is tasked with promoting “a level playing field” for faith groups in pursuing government funding and to uphold religious liberty. The initiative aims to install faith liaisons across federal agencies to ensure compliance.
The order mandates the new office seek counsel from outside faith leaders. It calls upon the federal agency to use their “expertise in a broad range of areas” affecting religious groups, “including poverty alleviation, religious liberty, strengthening marriage and family, education, solutions for substance abuse and addiction, crime prevention and reduction, prisoner reentry, and health and humanitarian services.”
The administration’s reliance on hand-picked faith-leaders to carry out its vision won’t comfort many LGBTQ people. The Trump administration has actively courted far-right hate groups, and its “experts” have repeatedly been vehemently anti-LGBTQ spokespeople.
In March, the White House hosted Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Tyson Langhofer at a panel for millennials. The ADF is the right-wing law firm responsible for pushing anti-trans bathroom bills across the U.S.
Meanwhile, Trump became the first president to attend the Value Voters Summit last October, a conference hosted by the Family Research Council. The anti-LGBTQ hate group is led by Trump’s close advisor Tony Perkins, who actively pushed for the president’s ban on open trans military service. He has also compared queer people to Nazis, adulterers, pedophiles, and alcoholics.
But Sharon McGowan, director of strategy for Lambda Legal, says the creation of the new office on its own is not momentous. It remains largely unclear what the orderwhich was signed on the National Day of Prayerwill look like when it is actually implemented.
But its signing is ominous in the context of an onslaught of anti-LGBTQ moves by the administration under the guise of protecting religious freedom.
“They really are looking for a problem to solve in service of their larger agenda about privileging religious beliefs,” McGowan told INTO. “And among the religious beliefs that are being deployed and weaponized are about LGBTQ people.”
The Center for Inquiry (CFI), a science and education advocacy organization, claimed the order absolves the federal government from funding non-religious social services.
“If that is allowed, the LGBTQ community could be denied healthcare and other services,” said CFI Vice President Nick Little said in a statement. “LGBTQ taxpayers would be paying for programs they couldn’t access. This would enshrine discrimination and bigotry under the guise of religious freedom.”
Late last month, the White House announced plans to rollback guidance that accompanied non-discrimination protections for transgender people in the Affordable Care Act. The announcement means the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is likely to stop enforcing the ACA protections, leaving LGBTQ on their own if they experience discrimination in healthcare.
In January, the administration moved to create sweeping exemptions for healthcare workers who object treating trans people, people with HIV, and other individuals they find religiously or morally objectionable. The proposed rules are so broad advocates believe they can be used to broadly deny care to LGBTQ people.
In a statement, ACLU Director of Program on Freedom of Religion Daniel Mach said his organization values freedom of religion but won’t accept it as an excuse to harm.
“The ACLU will be watching this initiative closely to ensure that it does not promote policies that violate these core principles,” Mach said. “Many in the U.S., including people of faith, don’t want to give taxpayer-funded agencies or businesses open to the public a license to discriminate.”