Spicer Hints at Coming Action on Anti-LGBT 'Religious Freedom' Order

by Chris Johnson, Washington Blade

Amid renewed concerns President Trump would sign a "religious order" undermining LGBT rights, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Monday he expects the administration would soon "have something."

Spicer made the remarks in response to a question from the Daily Signal, an arm of the anti-LGBT Heritage Foundation, on whether the order is still coming and whether it would extend beyond the Johnson Amendment, a law Trump has pledged to repeal barring churches from making political endorsements.

"I think we've discussed executive orders in the past, and for the most part, we're not going to get into discussing what may or may not come until we're ready to announce it," Spicer replied. "So, I'm sure as we move forward we'll have something."

It wasn't immediately clear whether the "something" to which Spicer was referring was an actual executive order or a statement on a policy position for the way forward.

Although Trump initially passed up the opportunity to sign a proposed anti-LGBT "religious freedom" executive order at the time of the National Prayer Breakfast during the start of the administration, a recent report in The Huffington Post raised concerns a different order will come soon.

The report quotes Ken Blackwell, a senior fellow at the anti-LGBT Family Research Council who oversaw domestic policy for the Trump transition team, from an interview he had with Sirius XM's Michelangelo Signorile in which Blackwell says the order is being redrafted and on the way.

"In the final analysis, what we want is an executive order that will meet the scrutiny of the judicial process," Blackwell is quoted as saying. "If there is no executive order, that will disappoint [social conservatives]. But a good executive order will not. So we're still in the process."

Blackwell reportedly said the former director of Family Research Council's Center for Religious Liberty, Ken Klukowski, had "actually structured" the initial draft order as a legal adviser to Trump's transition team and is now one of the lawyers "in the process of redrafting it." Klukowski is now a senior attorney at the Liberty First Institute and a contributor to Breitbart, a conservative website.

The "anchor concept" of the order, Blackwell is quoted as saying, is a directive allowing people in the course of business to refuse services to LGBT people out of religious objections.

"I think small business owners who hold a religious belief that traditional marriage is between one man and one woman should not have their religious liberty trampled upon," he explained. "I would imagine that that will be, strongly and clearly, the anchor concept [of the order]."

No federal law prohibits discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of gender, sexual orientation or gender identity and an executive order like this would send a signal to individuals they should feel free to discriminate. A federal "religious freedom" executive order wouldn't preempt state laws barring anti-LGBT discrimination.

Klukowski is also quoted in the Huffington Post article as saying he's "not at liberty to speak about" the order specifically, but nonetheless expressed confidence Trump would act to protect religious freedom both through judicial appointments and possibly administrative actions.

"And I'm confident," Klukowski reportedly said, "that the president is showing -- much to the shock of many establishment people who said, 'There's no way this'll happen' - that he keeps his promises, even when they're things that an establishment player would never do. And I'm confident that he's going to keep his promise when it comes to protection of religious liberty as well."

Last month, a draft executive order began circulating among federal advocacy groups that would allow persons and religious organizations - broadly defined to include for-profit companies - to discriminate on the basis of religious objections to same-sex marriage, premarital sex, abortion and transgender identity.

At the time, the White House downplayed the draft executive order and said Trump wouldn't sign it - at least for the time being. Media reports circulated that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kuskner convinced Trump not to sign the "religious freedom" order and the president wasn't ever seriously considering doing so.

The White House issued a statement saying Trump would preserve the Obama-era order against workplace discrimination among federal contractors and is "respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights." That pledge of support was undermined after the administration later rescinded guidance protecting transgender students from discrimination at schools.

Olivia Dalton, the Human Rights Campaign's senior vice president for communications and marketing, said renewed plans for an anti-LGBT "religious freedom" order shouldn't come as a surprise.

"Donald Trump and Mike Pence have repeatedly threatened the LGBTQ community, and by their own admission this 'license to discriminate' order has been circulating for weeks," Dalton said. "No one should be surprised - their despicable attack on transgender kids last week showed just how low they're willing to go."

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National Media Association.
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