- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Trump administration is considering a move that would grant broad religious freedom protections to individuals and organizations who oppose same-sex marriage, insurance coverage for contraception and other issues on religious grounds.

A four-page draft executive order being circulated among government officials, titled “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom,” would extend religious freedom protections to “any organization, including closely held for-profit corporations, operated for a religious purpose, even if its purpose is not exclusively religious.”

A copy of the draft was obtained by The Nation. The White House hasn’t commented on whether President Trump will sign the order.

It could exempt employers from providing contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act. As drafted, the order would require the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury to issue rules exempting organizations and individuals from Obamacare’s preventive-care mandate.

“Persons and organizations do not forfeit their religious freedom when providing social services, education, or healthcare; earning a living, seeking a job, or employing others; receiving government grants or contracts: or otherwise participating in the marketplace, the public square, or interfacing with federal, state or local governments,” the draft states.

Several human-rights groups and progressive activists are sounding alarms about the draft order, saying it would sanction discrimination against gays, transgender individuals and others.

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin called the draft “Donald Trump’s License to Discriminate order.”

“It reads like a wish-list from some of the most radical anti-equality activists,” Mr. Griffin said. “If Donald Trump goes through with even a fraction of this order, he’ll reveal himself as a true enemy to LGBTQ people.”

The White House said earlier this week that it has no intention of rolling back an executive order signed by President Obama that forbids discrimination by federal contractors against LGBT employees.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, said the draft order is “breathtaking in its scope — encouraging discrimination in social services, health care and across the federal government, creating a second class of citizenship for LGBT Americans and denying women access to constitutionally protected reproductive freedom.”

“Protections for religious freedom must be shields to protect the practice of religion, not swords to enable one person to force his or her religious beliefs on others,” Mr. Nadler said. “No matter how sincerely held a religious belief may be, employers — including the federal government — must not be permitted to wield them as a means of discriminating against their employees or against those they serve. Mr. Trump is a bully, using religion to further the cause of anti-gay hate that has become a mainstay of the Republican Party.”

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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