July 18, 2014
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Susan Barnett | | (212) 989-2956 (w) (917) 841-0221 (c)




WASHINGTON, DC — Religious leaders across the country declared victory today at the news that a forthcoming executive order banning LGBT discrimination by federal contractors will not have a new religious exemption. This follows on the heels of grassroots campaigns opposing an exemption that gathered tens of thousands of signatures, and a week after more than 100 prominent religious leaders sent a letter to the White House asking that the president leave out a religious exemption because religion should never be used a basis to justify discrimination.

Invited by the White House to the signing ceremony is Rev. Fred Davie, Executive Vice President of Union Theological Seminary and a member of the LGBT community. Davie said of the order, “This is a tremendous victory for those of us who believe that as people of faith we should be exemplary, not exempted. I am very pleased the President is signing an executive order prohibiting discrimination against the LGBT community in federal contracting without a new religious exemption. The public’s money should never be used to discriminate.”

According to Politico, “Obama will keep in place a 2002 amendment by George W. Bush, which allows religiously affiliated contractors to favor people of their same religion for religious roles, such as positions in the clergy.” This means that the new order will leave out a new, broader exemption.

The Rev. Dr. Katharine Rhodes Henderson, president of Auburn Theological Seminary, said, “We stand in support of President Obama’s executive order to curb discrimination and to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) workers, and affirm his decision not to include a religious exemption.”

“Churches, synagogues, mosques and the like can celebrate that our precious separation of church and state still protects them from government interference, and LGBT people can celebrate the freedom to get and hold a job without facing discrimination at the hands of religious people,” said Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. “That’s a good thing for both religion and society.”

“What President Obama has recognized is that the call to government service is not limited by sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Rev. Harry Knox, President and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and a member of Obama’s first White House Faith Advisory Council. “He has courageously expanded the opportunities for service to all who hear that call and in doing so has affirmed the highest values of our country and our diverse faiths.”

Last week’s letter from religious leaders and the grassroots petitions from Faithful America and Groundswell were in part a response to the Hobby Lobby decision, as well as to letters from some faith leaders urging Obama to include a religious exemption in his upcoming executive order.

“Those of us who are old enough to remember hearing religious arguments for segregation know that just because an argument is based on religious tradition doesn’t mean it’s just or good,” said Rev. Brian McLaren, a leading evangelical and head of the Cana Initiative. “That’s why so many of us who believe in religious liberty don’t want religious liberty used as a smokescreen to aid, abet, and protect prejudice.”

The full text of last week’s letter is available as a PDF online at: