We Must Preserve Religious Freedom – But Not at the Expense of Others’ Rights

A year ago this week, we released “Striking a Balance: Advancing Civil and Human Rights While Preserving Religious Liberty” – a report that documents how the religious arguments commonly used today against LGBT equality have been used to oppose the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage and equality, racial integration, inter-racial marriage, immigration, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the right to collectively bargain. The report also examined the current legal and political landscape in which religious exemptions were being used to deny civil and human rights, including LGBT equality.

One year later, recognizing this balance is more important than ever. Last September, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump wrote on his website that he would sign the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) if Congress passes it. Here’s what that means:

According to the Human Rights Campaign, “FADA seeks to foster state sanctioned discrimination under the guise of religious liberty. On its face, this legislation purports to prohibit ‘discrimination’ by the federal government based on individual’s religious beliefs about marriage. In reality, this bill would allow individuals, many businesses, and nonprofit organizations – even those nonprofit organizations and businesses contracting with the federal government – to circumvent critical federal protections and allow blatant discrimination against LGBTQ families.”

One of FADA’s original cosponsors is Sen. Jeff Sessions, R. Ala., Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Justice. If the Senate confirms him, he’ll be tasked with enforcing his law – and his record on LGBT issues is unsurprisingly hostile.

But more immediately, Trump could sign a sweeping executive order. On Wednesday night, The Nation – in partnership with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute – published a leaked draft of an order that “seeks to create wholesale exemptions for people and organizations who claim religious or moral objections to same-sex marriage, premarital sex, abortion, and trans identity, and it seeks to curtail women’s access to contraception and abortion through the Affordable Care Act.”

That would, quite obviously, turn back the clock on so much of our nation’s progress. As our report says, “America has an honorable tradition of accommodating people’s religious beliefs when reasonably possible. But that accommodation cannot come at the expense of others’ rights.” We must do all we can to uphold that tradition.

Perhaps more than ever, we need your financial support to meet these challenges. Protecting genuine religious freedoms and ensuring civil and human rights are not mutually exclusive. Reports like “Striking a Balance,” thoughtful analysis, and careful research help us advance our nation’s journey to equality – relying on facts and reasoned principles of social justice, not unfounded fears and unchecked emotions.