Heat On Obama Grows for Limits on Sanctioned Discrimination

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From the day Barack Obama took office, a coalition of LGBT and religious groups have been pressing him to implement a campaign promise to reconsider the Bush administration’s breathtakingly sweeping interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act , as expressed in a 2007 legal memorandum providing blanket exemptions for faith-based organizations from most discrimination laws.

Ever since SCOTUS extended the protections of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to closely-held for-profit corporations in its Hobby Lobby decision, reversing that Bush policy has become an ever more urgent priority for those opposing it. So yesterday a coalition of 130 groups–significantly more than in past communications on the subject–sent a letter to Obama reminding him of their concerns. Another timing issue is implementation of an Obama executive order banning gender identity or sexual orientation discrimination by federal contractors.

As Sarah Posner notes at Religion Dispatches, the administration probably cannot evade its way out of this conflict until Obama leaves office:

The crux of criticism of the Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby is that RFRA should not be used to protect religious rights at the expense of third parties. As Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, has noted, the government “has a vital interest in preventing discrimination in taxpayer-funded jobs.” Many of the groups signing today’s letter have been pressing Obama for more than six years to uphold a campaign promise to end religious-based hiring discrimination by federal contractors. Is it now about time?

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.