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In Wake of Hobby Lobby, LGBT Community Braces for 'Pandora's Box' of Discrimination

Rights groups pull support for anti-discrimination bill over religious exemption

People rallied outside the U.S. Supreme Court while waiting for the decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, June 30, 2014. (Photo: American Life League/ cc/ Flickr)

People rallied outside the U.S. Supreme Court while waiting for the decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, June 30, 2014. (Photo: American Life League/ cc/ Flickr)

Human rights groups and the LGBT community are bracing for the precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court's June 30 Hobby Lobby ruling, which declared that religiously affiliated companies are exempt from laws that run counter to their beliefs.

Citing the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision, on Tuesday the American Civil Liberties Union and a group of other rights groups announced that they are pulling their support from a bill that bars workplace discrimination—the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA—because a provision in the bill would allow religiously affiliated employers to continue to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

"Because opponents of LGBT equality are already misreading [the Hobby Lobby] decision as having broadly endorsed rights to discriminate against others," the joint statement (pdf) reads, "we cannot accept a bill that sanctions discrimination and declares that discrimination against LGBT people is more acceptable than other kinds of discrimination."

The discriminatory provision grants religiously affiliated organizations "a blank check to engage in workplace discrimination against LGBT people," adds the group, which includes the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), Lambda Legal, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Transgender Law Center.

In her dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg warned that with that ruling she feared the court had “ventured into a minefield.” As if to illustrate her point, religious groups are already lining up to claim religious right to what many call government-sanctioned discrimination.

In what was seen as the first sign that the "floodgates" were open, the day after the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling was handed down, a group of religious leaders including pastor Rick Warren sent a letter to President Obama asking him to include a religious exemption in his long-promised executive order barring federal contractors from workplace discrimination.

Because ENDA has long been stalled in a House subcommittee, last month Obama announced that he would soon issue an executive order in its place.

To counter their call, on Tuesday 100 liberal faith leaders sent an opposing letter (pdf) to the President asking that he deliver the executive order with no exemption.

"An exemption would set a terrible precedent by denying true equality for LGBT people," the group writes, "while simultaneously opening a Pandora’s Box inviting other forms of discrimination."

The signatories include Rev. Peter Morales, president, of the Unitarian Universalist Association, Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson—who was the first openly gay priest to be consecrated a bishop in a major Christian denomination.


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