Trump’s Religious Freedom Order Doesn’t Roll Back LGBT Protections

TrumpOnce again, fears that the Trump administration is going to roll back federal LGBT protections may end up proving to be misguided.

The LGBT community and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) erupted in a new round of activism and concern when Politico reported yesterday President Donald Trump was planning to sign a new religious liberty executive order on Thursday.

Politico reported based on unnamed sources that this order was similar to one that Trump had previously rejected. That initial order catered to religious conservatives by carving out massive exceptions from federal discrimination laws and demanded certain religious positions be accommodated.

Let's be clear about that first draft from a libertarian perspective: This was not what libertarians would classify as a "religious freedom" executive order. As I explained back in February when it came around, that proposed order would have classified particular religious beliefs—that marriage is for heterosexual couples, that sex is immutable and determined at birth, and that life begins at conception—as beliefs protected by government order. It literally declared particular beliefs that the government would recognize over others and therefore violated the Establishment Clause. There were parts of the executive order that libertarians would support, like exempting religious organizations from having to pay for employees' birth control or abortions. But overall the order had serious, fundamental constitutional issues and it was good that Trump didn't sign it.

So, when Politico reported that the order was back, LGBT organizations and the ACLU sounded the alarms again. The ACLU held a rally today and has threatened to sue to try to block the order before even learning its contents.

We won't fully know the contents until tomorrow, but what the White House has released is much, much, much less than what was presented back in February. NBC reporter Kelly O'Donnell got a briefing at the White House with the basics of the order, which will be presented tomorrow. The summary:

  • It is the policy of the administration "To protect and vigorously promote religious liberty"
  • Calls on the IRS to show "maximum discretion" in the enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, which limits the power of religious leaders (and many charity groups) from endorsing political candidates
  • Calls for "regulatory relief" for businesses and employers who have religious objections to being required to fund birth control or preventative services.

And that's it. There are no special protections being extended to those who oppose gay marriage or recognizing transgender people. That first item, though, is very vague in the summary. It could end up meaning very little, but we'll have to see what the actual order says tomorrow.