Today U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued sweeping guidance instructing federal agencies to provide significant leeway to staff and government contractors and grantees seeking religious exemptions from federal laws, rules and regulation.
“This license-to-discriminate guidance promotes widespread, state-sanctioned, taxpayer-funded discrimination,” said Amy Herzfeld-Copple, Co-Executive Director. “It invites taxpayer-funded federal agencies, government employees, and government contractors and grantees to discriminate as long as they cite a religious belief as the reason for doing so.”
This guidance comes just one day after the Department of Justice announced they would no longer protect transgender Americans from workplace discrimination under Title VII. These unprecedented attacks are aimed at systematically eroding the legal equality and even the basic dignity of LGBTQ Americans, and make this administration the most anti-LGBTQ in recent decades.
On May 9, 2007, Basic Rights Oregon led the effort to pass the Oregon Equality Act, which protects LGBTQ Oregonians against discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and more.
The majority of states, however, do not have similar protections for LGBTQ individuals, despite the fact there is broad support for it. A September 2017 survey by Public Religion Research Institute found that 72% of Americans support laws that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. This includes six out of ten (60%) Republicans and 81% of Democrats.
“This latest step by the Trump Administration is a deliberate attempt to undermine the legal equality and dignity of LGBTQ people and it illustrates the urgent need for a comprehensive nondiscrimination law inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity at the federal level,” Herzfeld-Copple said. “Freedom of religion is important. It’s one of our most fundamental values,” she added. “That’s why it’s already protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. But freedom of religion does not give people the right to impose their beliefs on others, to harm others, or to discriminate.”
Oregonians have seen first-hand the negative consequences of religious refusals by business owners. As Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer planned their wedding, the couple was denied a wedding cake by Sweet Cakes by Melissa based on the owner’s “religious” views. The Gresham-based bakery had sold a similar cake to Laurel’s mother for her wedding. After denying them the cake, the owners called them an “abomination” and posted the couple’s personal information on Facebook, launching a national onslaught of hate email and threats against the couple. Because of the Oregon Equality Act, a judge from the Bureau of Labor and Industries found the Sweet Cakes owners violated the state’s public accommodation laws.
“In America, we believe that the government should treat everyone equally under the law and not discriminate,” Herzfeld-Copple said. “When the government supports employees, contractors and grantees who deny services to taxpayers based on their religious beliefs, it is breaking its promise to treat all citizens equally. Public servants and federal contractors and grantees should serve the public and shouldn’t be allowed to pick and choose who they’re going to serve based on their religious beliefs.”