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Obama signs Executive Order without Religious Exemption

President Barack Obama signs an executive order on workplace discrimination July 21, 2014 at the White House in Washington, DC.
President Barack Obama signs an executive order on workplace discrimination July 21, 2014 at the White House in Washington, DC.
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

In signing an executive order on Monday that expanded protections for federal workers and contractors President Obama said, "In too many states and in too many workplaces, simply being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender can still be a fireable offense. So I firmly believe that it's time to address this injustice for every American."

USA Today reports that "Since President Bill Clinton, the federal government has banned discrimination against gays and lesbians in federal employment. Obama's action Monday expanded that protection to transsexuals. The two-part order also bans discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity for companies receiving federal contracts."

But concerned what this would mean for them, religious leaders had asked the President to include a religious-based exception in the executive order.

While the President did not include that language, the executive order does maintain a provision from an executive order signed by President George W. Bush in 2002 that does exempt religious organizations that discriminate based on religious beliefs.

President of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, Mark Tooley said in a press release “President Obama’s new executive order compelling all federal contractors to affirm the latest LGBTQ orthodoxy escalates the ongoing culture war against traditional mores and religion.”

IRD notes that "The order could institutionalize federal discrimination against all religious groups and persons affirming natural marriage, traditional sexual ethics and the biological reality of gender."

But the extent of the order and the affect on religious institutions is not yet clear.

Peter Sprigg, Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at the Family Research Council told Fox News, “If religious organizations cannot require that their employees conduct themselves in ways consistent with the teachings of their faith – then, essentially, those organizations are unable to operate in accordance with their faith...This level of coercion is nothing less than viewpoint blackmail that bullies into silence every contractor and subcontractor who has moral objections to homosexual behavior."

There will likely be court challenges to the order.

Thomas Berg, a professor of law and public policy at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota told Christianity Today, "Several federal courts have held that this language, incorporated from elsewhere in antidiscrimination law, allows religious organizations to have standards concerning employees' conduct if those moral standards stem from the organization's religious beliefs. So the scope of that provision could be litigated."