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Donald Trump opens door to anti-LGBT discrimination with ‘religious freedom’ order

Donald Trump ditched explicit anti-LGBT language from a ‘religious freedom’ executive order he signed today – but campaigners say it’s still setting up an attack on equality.

Reports emerged earlier this week that the White House was preparing for the signing of an executive order that would address religious ‘objections’ to LGBT people.

An early draft of the order had leaked from inside the White House, revealing plans to protect people who discriminate based on “the belief that marriage is or should be recognised as the union of one man and one woman [or that] male and female refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy at birth”.

The order was signed by Trump today for the National Day of Prayer, after pressure from Republicans including Ted Cruz and Mike Pence.

However, after legal threats from the American Civil Liberties Union and opposition from faith groups, the language was refined to remove the explicitly anti-LGBT language.

Donald Trump

Instead, the buck was passed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, with the order empowering him to “issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in Federal law”.

Sessions is a strongly anti-LGBT former Republican Senator who co-sponsored the so-called ‘First Amendment Defence Act’.

Like the earlier draft of the order, his bill would prevent the federal government from taking action against a person “on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman”.

Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said, “Donald Trump just let the fox into the hen house.

“Through this Executive Order, Trump has directed Attorney General Jeff Sessions – a man who has denied LGBTQ people equality under the law – to seek a license to discriminate across all areas of the government.

“This order is incredibly alarming, particularly for millions of LGBTQ people and women across the nation who are among those most frequently subjected to discrimination under the guise of religion.

“We are watching and we will challenge any effort by Jeff Sessions or other agencies of Trump’s Administration to license discrimination.”

The text of the order states it will “protect the freedom of Americans and their organizations to exercise religion and participate fully in civic life without undue interference by the Federal Government”.

A clause aimed at the Treasury says it must “not take any adverse action against any individual, house of worship, or other religious organization on the basis that such individual or organization speaks or has spoken about moral or political issues from a religious perspective”.

In a speech, President Trump kicked the can down the road to the Department of Justice as to broader changes.

He said: “With this Executive Order we make clear that the federal government will never ever penalise any person for their protected religious beliefs.

“That’s why I am directing the Department of Justice to develop new rules to ensure these religious protections are afforded to all Americans.”

He added: “We will not allow people of faith to be bullied, targeted or silenced anymore, and we will never stand for religious discrimination, never ever.

“For too long the federal gov has used the power of the state as a weapon against people of faith, bullying and even punishing Americans for following their religious beliefs.

“That is why I am signing an Executive Order to defend the freedom of religion and speech in America.”

“With this Executive Order we make clear that the federal government will never ever penalise any person for their protected religious beliefs.

“That’s why I am directing the Department of Justice to develop new rules to ensure these religious protections are afforded to all Americans.”

One issue where the order does license discrimination is healthcare.

The order directs federal agencies to “consider issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law, to address conscience-based objections to the  preventive-care mandate”, which would create an exemption from rules preventing healthcare providers from discriminating.

The American Civil Liberties Order has already launched a legal challenge.

American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony D Romero said: “The actions taken today are a broadside to our country’s long-standing commitment to the separation of church and state.

“Whether by executive order or through backroom deals, it’s clear that the Trump administration and Congressional leadership are using religion as a wedge to further divide the country and permit discrimination. We intend to file suit today.

“America is a deeply religious country because religious freedom and tolerance of divergent religious views thrive.

“President Trump’s efforts to promote religious freedom are thinly-veiled efforts to unleash his conservative religious base into the political arena while also using religion to discriminate.

“It’s a dual dose of pandering to a base and denying reproductive care. We will see Trump in court, again.”

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