A new White House directive instructing staff not to deny federal contracts to faith-based entities was widely criticized by advocacy groups as yet another of the Trump administration’s rollbacks of LGBTQ rights.
The memo, however, found favor with one demographic: homophobes.
Liberty Counsel claimed the White House is “taking a strong stand” in favor of “religious freedom” following an order issued to Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) employees on Friday. The three-page document instructs workers in the department — which ensures Department of Labor (DOL) compliance with federal nondiscrimination protections — to “proceed in a manner neutral toward and tolerant of… religious beliefs.”
Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, commended the Trump administration for supporting the sincerely held faith beliefs of “individuals and organizations under federal law and the U.S. Constitution.”
“People of faith should not have to set aside their sincerely held religious beliefs to appease others,” Staver said in a statement.
Liberty Counsel, the right-wing law firm which represented embattled Kentucky clerk Kim Davis in court, has been one of the leading champions of policies allowing people of faith to discriminate against LGBTQ people if they cite moral objections.
When the White House announced the creation of a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in January, Liberty Counsel called it “refreshing and exciting.” As INTO previously reported, the office’s mission is to bolster protections for federally funded care centers which refuse service to trans people and individuals living with HIV.
“Religious freedom is our first freedom and I welcome the news that HHS is committed to protecting our precious freedom,” Staver said at the time.
“The Trump administration is to be commended for making this 180-degree turn from the past administration which used the federal government to violate religious freedom and conscience rather than protecting them,” he continued. “This move sends a strong message that there must be a commitment to protecting religious freedom.”
Liberty Counsel actually plagiarized itself in August, using the same statement to praise Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement that the White House intends to form a “task force” to enforce a “religious freedom” order signed in October.
But the Florida-based organization — which has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center — isn’t the only party defending the Trump administration’s attacks on LGBTQ rights. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) claimed last week’s memo “ensures that faith-based organizations are welcome partners with the government to serve the American people.”
“In America, people and organizations don’t have to check their faith at the door in order to work with or for the federal government,” Lankford said in an email to Bloomberg.
The Oklahoma Congressman’s endorsement falls in line with his record of unilaterally opposing LGBTQ rights.
In a 2012 conversation with ThinkProgress, Lankford opined that employers should be able to fire workers on the basis of their LGBTQ identity — because being gay is a “choice.”
When the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division was unveiled earlier this year, Lankford spoke at the announcement ceremony. He said he was “grateful to the administration” for the office’s creation, while claiming the “free exercise of religion seems to be misunderstood by some.”
“It’s not the ability to have a religion and practice it in your place of worship,” he added. “It’s the ability to be able to have a faith and live your faith wherever you are.”
Despite the Department of Labor directive’s wide support among those who wish to allow faith-based entities broad license to discriminate against LGBTQ people, the order does not supersede nondiscrimination protections passed under the Obama administration.
In July 2014, President Obama signed an executive order forbidding the federal government from doing business with federal contractors that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
After he took office last year, President Trump signaled he would not rescind that order.
As INTO first reported yesterday, the new DOL memo states that “faith-based and community organizations” must be allowed “to compete on a level playing field” when competing for government contracts. Thus, a Catholic organization which refuses to hire LGBTQ employees would still be eligible to do business with the federal government.
Although the directive stops at granting carte blanche for anti-LGBTQ discrimination, advocacy groups blasted the recently issued document.
In a press release shared with INTO, Human Rights Campaign Government Affairs Director David Stacy referred to the DOL memo as “unsound guidance in implementing Obama-era regulations.”
“The erroneous application of the Supreme Court’s narrow ruling in Masterpiece and recent Trump executive orders is meant to aggressively marginalize hard-working Americans because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity,” Stacy claimed. “The American people will not tolerate discrimination, and LGBTQ people will not be erased.”
“The Department of Labor should focus on ensuring all Americans have the same opportunity to work hard, earn a living, and provide for themselves and their families,” added Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund Interim Director Dolph Goldenburg in a statement shared with INTO via email.
“Instead, this administration is coordinating a systematic effort to discriminate against trans people and all members of the LGBTQ community,” he added. “Religious freedom is not a license for bias. This move is unconscionable, unlawful, and cannot stand.”