A leaked copy of a draft executive order titled “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom,” obtained by The Investigative Fund and The Nation, reveals sweeping plans by the Trump administration to legalize discrimination.
The four-page draft order, a copy of which is currently circulating among federal staff and advocacy organizations, construes religious organizations so broadly that it covers “any organization, including closely held for-profit corporations,” and protects “religious freedom” in every walk of life: “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 order seeks to create wholesale exemptions for people and organizations who claim religious or moral objections to same-sex marriage, premarital sex, abortion, and trans identity, and it seeks to curtail women’s access to contraception and abortion through the Affordable Care Act. The White House did not respond to requests for comment, but when asked Monday about whether a religious freedom executive order was in the works, White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters, “I’m not getting ahead of the executive orders that we may or may not issue. There is a lot of executive orders, a lot of things that the president has talked about and will continue to fulfill, but we have nothing on that front now.”
Language in the draft document specifically protects the tax-exempt status of any organization that “believes, speaks, or acts (or declines to act) in accordance with the belief that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, sexual relations are properly reserved for such a marriage, male and female and their equivalents refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy, physiology, or genetics at or before birth, and that human life begins at conception and merits protection at all stages of life.”
The breadth of the draft order, which legal experts described as “sweeping” and “staggering,” may exceed the authority of the executive branch if enacted. It also, by extending some of its protections to one particular set of religious beliefs, would risk violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution.
“This executive order would appear to require agencies to provide extensive exemptions from a staggering number of federal laws—without regard to whether such laws substantially burden religious exercise,” said Marty Lederman, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center and an expert on church-state separation and religious freedom.