Will Hobby Lobby Decision Influence Obama's LGBT Executive Order?

U.S. President Barack Obama makes remarks at the Georgetown Waterfront Park in Washington July 1, 2014. |

President Barack Obama may have new pressure on him to consider religious liberty issues regarding his pending executive order barring LGBT employment discrimination.

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, many believe a renewed demand for religious exemption consideration now exists.

On Monday, the highest court in the land ruled 5 to 4 that a closely held business such as a family-owned one could be exempted from providing certain forms of birth control due to religious objections.

The majority opinion, authored by Justice Samuel Alito, stated that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act applied to businesses like Hobby Lobby, whose owners held a religious objection to the "preventive services" mandate of the Health and Human Services Department.

"The Government has failed to satisfy RFRA's least-restrictive means standard. HHS has not shown that it lacks other means of achieving its desired goal without imposing a substantial burden on the exercise of religion," wrote Alito.

While Alito's decision specifically narrowed the ruling to the HHS mandate, some including a dissenting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg believed the decision will be used for other church and state controversies.

On Tuesday, a group of faith leaders sent a letter to Obama asking for a religious exemption in his pending executive order barring employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation for businesses with federal contracts.

Signed by notable religious leaders including Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren, Christianity Today Executive Editor Andy Crouch, and Q Ideas President Gabe Lyons, the letter called for a religious exemption to the executive order.

"Religious organizations, because of their religious faith, have served their nation well for centuries, as you have acknowledged and supported time and time again. We hope that religious organizations can continue to do so, on equal footing with others, in the future," read the letter in part.

"A religious exemption in your executive order on LGBT employment rights would allow for this, balancing the government's interest in protecting both LGBT Americans, as well as the religious organizations that seek to serve in accordance with their faith and values."

Signatories to the letter included Obama supporters, such as Michael Wear, who formerly directed outreach to faith communities for Obama for America 2012.

hobby lobby
Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life leads anti-abortion demonstrators as they cheer after the ruling for Hobby Lobby was announced outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington June 30, 2014. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that business owners can object on religious grounds to a provision of U.S. President Barack Obama's healthcare law that requires closely held companies to provide health insurance that covers birth control. |

While the letter was written before the Supreme Court decision was announced, many have linked the demands of the religious leaders to the Hobby Lobby case.

Molly Ball of The Atlantic wrote on Wednesday an article that saw the letter as a reverberation of the Hobby Lobby decision.

"This week, in the Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court ruled that a religious employer could not be required to provide employees with certain types of contraception," wrote Ball. "That decision is beginning to reverberate: A group of faith leaders is urging the Obama administration to include a religious exemption in a forthcoming LGBT anti-discrimination action."

Ball talked with Wear, who noted that after Hobby Lobby "the administration does have a decision to make whether they want to recalibrate their approach to some of these issues."

Nick Ramsey of MSNBC commented that "some gay rights activists were prepared for the possibility of such a response in the wake of a ruling for Hobby Lobby."

According to Ramsey, Wear told MSNBC that the Hobby Lobby decision is "very different" from what was being requested in the letter to President Obama.

Recently Obama has announced his intentions to sign an executive order barring discrimination on employment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The executive order comes in response to the failure of Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would have expanded prohibitions on workplace discrimination to include the categories of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Much concern has been leveled by religious groups regarding the yet to be released executive order, with some fearing that it will lack religious exemptions.

"These organizations often are the best-qualified applicants for federal contracts or subcontracts," read a different letter sent last month to Obama regarding the pending executive order.

"It would be counterproductive to bar them from offering their services to the federal government simply because of their legally protected religious convictions; it would be wrong to require them to violate those legally protected convictions in order to be eligible to receive federal contracts."

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