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New Executive Order Discriminates on Basis of Religious Beliefs, U.S. Bishops Say

Two chairmen of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement on Monday lamenting the discrimination against those with religious beliefs found in President Obama’s executive order which failed to include religious freedom protections while banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity among federal contractors.

"In too many states and in too many workplaces, simply being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender can still be a fireable offense," Obama said, according to USA Today. "So I firmly believe that it's time to address this injustice for every American."

Writing at the National Catholic Reporter, Fr. Thomas Reese suggested that Catholic Relief Services, Catholic hospitals, and Catholic schools and colleges could eventually be impacted. “There is little doubt that if the administration is successful dealing with contracts, grants will soon be on the firing line,” he wrote.

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty and Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, issued a statement decrying the “unprecedented and extreme” executive order.

According to the USCCB, the bishops said in their statement:

In the name of forbidding discrimination, this order implements discrimination.  With the stroke of a pen, it lends the economic power of the federal government to a deeply flawed understanding of human sexuality, to which faithful Catholics and many other people of faith will not assent. As a result, the order will exclude federal contractors precisely on the basis of their religious beliefs.

 More specifically, the Church strongly opposes both unjust discrimination against those who experience a homosexual inclination and sexual conduct outside of marriage, which is the union of one man and one woman.  But the executive order, as it regards federal government contractors, ignores the inclination/conduct distinction in the undefined term “sexual orientation.”  As a result, even contractors that disregard sexual inclination in employment face the possibility of exclusion from federal contracting if their employment policies or practices reflect religious or moral objections to extramarital sexual conduct.

The executive order prohibits “gender identity” discrimination, a prohibition that is previously unknown at the federal level, and that is predicated on the false idea that “gender” is nothing more than a social construct or psychological reality that can be chosen at variance from one’s biological sex.  This is a problem not only of principle but of practice, as it will jeopardize the privacy and associational rights of both federal contractor employees and federal employees.  For example, a biological male employee may be allowed to use the women’s restroom or locker room provided by the employer because the male employee identifies as a female.

The bishops pointed out that many states have passed similar legislation, but most have included exemptions for religious employers. “The executive order is an anomaly in this regard, containing no religious liberty protections,” the bishops said in the statement. “In this way, the order, which is fundamentally flawed in itself, also needlessly prefers conflict and exclusion over coexistence and cooperation.”

Last month, a number of religious leaders and academics, including some with ties to Catholic colleges, publicly urged Obama to include religious freedom protections in the order.

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