Yesterday, President Trump signed an Executive Order that paves the way for employers, health care providers, and social services agencies to discriminate based on religious belief without fear of being held accountable by federal civil rights enforcement bodies. The final EO, while different from the draft leaked in February, is dangerous for women, LGBQ folks, trans individuals, and others who may suffer discrimination based on another person’s or institution’s religious beliefs.
The EO does two major things that open the door for discrimination:
- It signals that the Administration will be giving a green light to employers to discriminate against women and anyone who uses preventive health services like birth control. It directs the Department of Health and Human Services to “consider issuing amended regulations” that could do away with the birth control benefit under the Affordable Care Act. Secretary Tom Price is thrilled at this news; he immediately issued a statement declaring that he “welcomes” the opportunity to allow employers to deny their employees essential preventive health services.
- It directs the Attorney General to issue new “religious liberty” guidance wherever he sees fit in federal law. Given that Attorney General Sessions has made crystal clear already his prioritization of “religious liberty” above all other civil rights, we can only imagine what kind of new guidance will come from the Department of Justice in coming months that could jeopardize the rights, health, and safety of anyone who is victimized by discrimination based on another’s religious beliefs.
The EO also curbs the IRS’s ability to enforce a law called the “Johnson Amendment” that prohibits certain tax-exempt religious entities from engaging in political campaigns.
This EO is dangerous. It empowers federal agencies that are now run by individuals with histories of creating and supporting policies that discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, and reproductive health decisions, to use “religious liberty” to justify all kinds of discrimination. We don’t know yet what exactly Secretary Price, Attorney General Sessions, and other federal agency heads will do with this directive; but we can be fairly sure that the worst is yet to come.