RFRA is being distorted by the Religious Right as a means of justifying the denial of civil rights to particular individuals.  They are now arguing that RFRA trumps non-discrimination laws when a person or corporation claims they are acting in the name of religion. This use of RFRA is wrong for both legal and policy reasons.  In light of the recent Hobby Lobby decision, however, it is likely that those wishing to use RFRA as a means of discriminating will be even further emboldened to do so.

There are many attempts to legally permit religiously-motivated LGBT discrimination at the both the federal and state level.  For example, in the summer 2014, when President Obama signed an executive order to extend protections of sexual orientation and gender identity to the anti-discrimination policies governing government contractors, the Religious Right called upon the president to include a religious exemption.  AU argued that such a religious exemption should be rejected as the government can never justify funding discrimination.  Furthermore, RFRA does not provide employers the ability to trump discrimination bans.

At the state level, AU sees bills that would define religious freedom so broadly as to grant individuals and businesses the explicit right to discriminate based on religious beliefs about sex or gender.  Small businesses around the country are already attempting to skirt non-discrimination protections in the name of religion.  For example, a cake-maker refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple in Colorado and a wedding photographer declined to photograph a gay couple’s wedding in Oregon.  Both used religion as their justification for refusing these couples service.  Although state courts have held that RFRA does not provide individuals with the right to opt out of civil rights protections covering LGBT persons, the fight to push for religious exemptions to civil rights laws will likely only intensify post-Hobby Lobby

Additional resources:

  • AU sign-on letter opposing a religious exemption in the Executive Order barring federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees
  • AU letter opposing Kansas House Bill 2453

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