Atlanta legal expert: Anti-LGBT Trump executive order draft worse than HB 757

A leaked copy of a draft executive order reveals far-reaching plans by the Trump administration that would negatively affect LGBT people and women throughout the US in the name of “religious freedom” if signed into law. And one Atlanta constitutional law expert and past president of the Stonewall Bar Association says it is worse than House Bill 757, the anti-LGBT bill that passed in both chambers of the Legislature last year before being vetoed by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal.

The Nation published the leaked draft executive order, titled “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom,” Wednesday evening and it was met with immediate backlash by LGBT groups nationwide. And this is on the heels of a flurry of protests and lawsuits in the wake of Trump signing an executive order that’s effectively a ban on Muslims entering the US.

Merritt McAlister, a partner at the Atlanta office of King & Spalding, reviewed a copy of the executive order provided by Georgia Voice and called it “comparable to HB 757, but worse.”

Merritt McAlister, constitutional law expert and partner at the Atlanta office of King & Spalding. (Courtesy photo)

She said that the order protects religious organizations and for-profit companies that have a religious purpose that wish to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or opposition to same-sex marriage. Furthermore, it would enable companies that do business with the federal government to claim a religious exemption from any non-discrimination protections.

“So, for example, an adoption agency that receives federal grant money could refuse to place children with LGBT couples,” she said.

The order also exempts religious organizations and for-profit companies from contraceptive or abortion coverage if they object for moral and ethical reasons.

McAlister went on to say that the order has the potential to significantly erode existing protections by undermining the few protections there are for LGBT people at the federal level.

“It gives a license to discriminate against LGBT folks based on a religious or moral objection, and it ensures that the federal government cannot impose any consequences on those who discriminate,” she said. “A lot of the provisions are troubling – it seems to be a collection of all of the most aggressive religious freedom bills that have been floating around.”

McAlister pointed out another troubling provision in the order that requires agencies not to enforce any conflicting regulations.

“It’s hard to know whether that could be expansively construed to require the repeal of some pro-LGBT regulations that were enacted under Obama,” she said. “It certainly would require selective non-enforcement where the regulations conflict with an organization’s/person’s religious beliefs.”

White House responds, LGBT groups swarm

A White House official, speaking with ABC News, did not dispute the authenticity of the draft religious freedom executive order. And Thursday afternoon, when pressed by a reporter on whether religious liberty was “code for discrimination,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said religious liberty is getting “pushed out in the name of political correctness.”

LGBT groups nationwide slammed the draft executive order.

“The reported executive order is a direct attack on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, everyone living with HIV, women, and all Americans who love liberty,” said Lambda Legal CEO Rachel B. Tiven in a statement. “The immediate public outcry in response to the leaked order confirmed what we already know: people overwhelmingly reject discrimination against LGBT people and don’t want taxpayer money to fund hatred. Bigotry—whether against LGBT people, women, Muslim immigrants or refugees—has no place in our country. The administration needs to stand down. Lambda Legal is remaining vigilant and is ready to file suit if this executive order is issued.”

GLSEN Executive Director Dr. Eliza Byard had the following statement:

“This executive order does not increase freedom of religion; rather, it creates a license to discriminate against LGBTQ Americans, women and other groups.

The dangerous and overly broad language of the draft executive order leaked to the public would leave basic rights at the personal discretion of others, and undermine the crucial safeguards against discrimination that have created opportunities for at-risk youth.

“On Monday, Donald Trump said he would not discriminate against LGBTQ people, but today’s expected executive order would allow health and counseling professionals to deny LGBTQ youth life-saving services, and it would allow school leaders to force some students to use separate and unequal facilities and deny them equal educational opportunities. LGBTQ educators could lose their jobs because of who they are, who they love or who they married.

“In his speech today at the National Prayer Breakfast, Donald Trump stated his goal is an America where ‘all of our citizens can feel safe and secure’ and ‘our most vulnerable citizens have a path to success.’ This executive order does completely the opposite for millions of Americans.

“These are not the ideals or values our country was founded upon. We call on President Trump to live up to his promises to the LGBTQ community and protect LGBTQ youth by not broadening any religious exemptions already legally allowed to religious organizations. We are part of the American family, too.”

From Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund:

“This rumored executive order is a charter for widespread and divisive discrimination, against LGBTQ people, and frankly against everyone. It is designed to destroy lives and roll-back fundamental rights. It trashes the separation of church and state and aims to combine them. It will have an immediate and chilling impact on every aspect of our lives, disproportionately impacting the vulnerable. Consider the fact that personal assistant services for seniors and persons with disabilities are regularly controlled by religious organizations. This executive order could have devastating consequences for LGBTQ older adults and people with disabilities who rely on these services or reside in assisted living facilities. Our youth are also especially at risk under these policies. For example, almost 20% of the 400,000 youth in foster care identify as LGBTQ. Under this order, placement organizations don’t have to serve them, or the potential parents who seek to support them. That’s 80,000 young people that can be denied service under this executive order. You can be sure that Trump’s extremist troops — including a new government enforcement squad to be set up under this executive order — will be encouraged to implement his order with zeal, slashing and burning civil and constitutional rights as they go along. What will be shocking to millions of people of all faiths and secular people alike is that Trump radically twists freedom of and freedom from religion to justify this amoral action. If this leak is accurate, and he signs this or a similar order, it will be a truly devastating day for American freedoms. We will continue to join with immigrants, Muslims, refugees, women and other fair-minded people in protecting what we hold to be good and true about America.”

Rebecca Isaacs, executive director of Equality Federation:

“Donald Trump claimed on Monday to be respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights. If he signs this leaked executive order it will be clear that he is anything but respectful and supportive. Freedom of religion is a core American value that we all share, and that’s why it is already firmly protected by our constitution. This staggeringly broad executive order would single out LGBTQ people and give a license to discriminate. It is unfair and out of step with the belief a majority of Americans share, that all of us should have a fair opportunity to provide for ourselves and our families without fear of discrimination.

HRC President Chad Griffin:

“The leaked draft of Donald Trump’s License to Discriminate order is sweeping and dangerous. It reads like a wishlist from some of the most radical anti-equality activists. If true, it seems this White House is poised to wildly expand anti-LGBTQ discrimination across all facets of the government — even if he does maintain the Obama EO. If Donald Trump goes through with even a fraction of this order, he’ll reveal himself as a true enemy to LGBTQ people. We’ve already seen that the Trump administration is willing to go after women, immigrants, people of color, and most frighteningly, people who disagree with him. If this version is true this could represent another chilling attempt to go after LGBTQ people, federal employees, employees of federal contractors, and people served by federal programs funded with taxpayer dollars. The impacts extend to anybody in the LGBTQ community, women, minority religious communities and others. Let’s make one thing clear: the Human Rights Campaign will fight tooth-and-nail to protect the LGBTQ community, and protect its members from discrimination.”

A copy of the draft executive order: