Sen. Hatch Calls for Broad Religious Exemptions in Exec Order

Orrin Hatch says a presidential executive order banning anti-LGBT discrimination should let religiously affiliated employers opt out.

BY Trudy Ring

June 17 2014 2:59 PM ET

Sen. Orrin Hatch

U.S. senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, one of the few Republicans supporting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, wants any ENDA-like executive order issued by President Obama to contain broad exemptions for religious organizations, the Washington Blade reports.

The exemptions he wants are similar to those contained in the current version of ENDA. They would allow not only churches, but also religiously affiliated institutions such as schools, hospitals, and charities to ignore the antidiscrimination order. “The religious exemption is broader than similar exemptions under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for categories of race, gender, religion and national origin,” notes the Blade.

Obama confirmed yesterday that he plans to sign an executive order barring companies that have contracts with the federal government from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBT activists have lobbied for years for such an order, which would cover about 20 percent of the U.S. workforce.

“While the specifics of this executive order are not yet clear, I believe it must include the same religious protections that are included in the bipartisan Employment Non-Discrimination Act that passed the Senate,” Hatch told the Blade in a prepared statement. “ENDA strikes a good balance to ensure that discrimination based on sexual orientation will not be tolerated, but also that one of our nation’s fundamental freedoms — religious freedom — is still upheld. The same must be said for any Obama Administration initiative on this issue.”

Some activists see those religious exemptions as overly broad. The National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Transgender Law Center have withdrawn support for ENDA because of the issue, according to the Blade. However, sources tell The Advocate that religiously affiliated employers are generally not federal contractors, and would therefore not be covered by the executive order, although they are sometimes recipients of federal grants.

Hatch, one of 10 Senate Republicans to vote for ENDA when the body passed the measure last year, said the religious exemptions allowed him to cast a yes vote. The bill has yet to come up in the House, and Speaker John Boehner has said there is no chance it will pass during this session of Congress.

Another Republican who supported the bill in the Senate, Susan Collins of Maine, called on the House to consider it, saying an executive order does not go far enough. “Under the executive powers of the President, this executive order cannot be nearly as comprehensive as a law would be,” Collins, an original cosponsor of ENDA, said in a statement to the Blade. “That is why I urge the House to consider the Senate-passed bill promptly so it can be signed into law by the President. All Americans deserve a fair opportunity to pursue the American dream and to be free of unfair discrimination in the workplace.”