EQIL Asks President: No Broad Religious Exemption in Executive Order

Equality Illinois and Other State Groups Asking President:
No Broad Religious Exemption in Executive Order
EQIL position emphasizes earlier opposition to ENDA due to religious exemption

CHICAGO (July 8, 2014) – Equality Illinois and scores of other statewide equality organizations throughout the United States joined forces today in sending a letter to President Obama urging him to exclude broad religious exemptions from his promised executive order prohibiting discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers by federal contractors.

Signed by the chief executives of 45 state-based LGBT advocacy organizations and the Equality Federation, the letter was sent in the aftermath of the Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision that allowed employers to discriminate based on their religious views. Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, the state’s oldest and largest advocacy organization for LGBT Illinoisans, is one of the signers.

The letter, which praises the President for his leadership in advancing LGBT equality, takes notice that he is under pressure to include a broad religious exemption in his proposed executive order.

“In joining with my fellow state equality executives, we are presenting a unified front against those who wish to water down any action by the President and allow the Hobby Lobby decision to create a roadmap for future civil rights laws and federal and state policies,” Cherkasov said.

Even before the Hobby Lobby decision, Equality Illinois took a stand against any broad religious exemption, including the one in the current draft of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), that would give LGBT people less protection than other protected groups already enjoy under federal civil rights law.

“We cannot support ENDA as long as it includes the disproportionate, unprecedented, and overly broad religious exemptions. A strong executive order by the President without a broad religious exemption is one way to stop the spread of the kind of discriminatory thinking contained in the Supreme Court opinion and also signal that we won’t accept a weak ENDA bill from Congress,” Cherkasov said.

In the letter, the state LGBT equality executives say, “One of our nation’s most fundamental values is the free exercise of religion, but religious freedom does not include the right to discriminate against or otherwise harm others.”

The letter to the President continues:

“We ask you to make a clear statement that discrimination based on sexual  orientation and gender identity is no different from discrimination based on the other classes protected by federal law by ensuring that the executive order not contain any exemption beyond what is provided by the Constitution and Title VII (of the Civil Rights Act).

“Any greater exemption leaves hardworking LGBT individuals at risk of being fired or treated unfairly for reasons that have nothing to do with their job performance. Any greater exemption threatens our work in the states to secure critical and comprehensive protections for LGBT  employees. Any greater exemption could have serious detrimental effects in the future as this order will likely set the standard for forthcoming state and federal legislation to end discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and other aspects of our lives.”

The full text of the letter and the list of state LGBT equality executives who signed it are available here: http://tinyurl.com/EQIL-Letter-to-the-President.

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