Last month, President Obama said he is drafting an executive order that would prohibit federal contractors — which employ about 20 percent of the U.S. work force — from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. But now the President is beseeched to exempt religious employers from that order. He should decline the invitation.
The planned executive order is a response to the failure of the House to follow the Senate’s lead in approving the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would bar discrimination against gay, lesbian, and transgender people by public and private employers alike. Mr. Obama is following a well-established tradition of presidents who used federal contracting authority to compensate, to a limited extent, for Congress’ inaction on civil rights.
But in a letter to the President, several religious leaders — including mega-church pastor Rick Warren, who delivered the invocation at Mr. Obama’s first inauguration — warned that an order that didn’t include a religious exemption would threaten “the common good, national unity, and religious freedom.” That is unholy hyperbole.
It’s doubtful that a large number of agreements with religious organizations would be affected by Mr. Obama’s order, because most federal transactions with such groups take the form of grants. Still, if a religious organization does choose to enter into a contract to provide services for the federal government, it shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate in hiring on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, any more than it should be allowed to engage in racial or gender bias.
The signers of the letter to Mr. Obama suggest that an exemption in the executive order be modeled on language in the Senate bill. That provision says the measure wouldn’t apply to religious organizations that are free under the 1964 Civil Rights Act to discriminate in favor of employees of their own faith.
But that provision concedes too much. There is a huge difference between a church preferring to hire members of its own denomination and refusing to hire gay or transgender people.
A church that believes homosexual conduct is a sin has a constitutional right to insist that its clergy and religious teachers share that view and live by it. That doesn’t give the church a right to refuse to hire a gardener or cafeteria worker because he or she is gay.
That sort of discrimination is unjustified in any circumstance, but it’s even more objectionable when taxpayers subsidize it. Mr. Obama should say no to the request for a religious exemption.
— Los Angeles Times