May 2017 Church & State - May 2017

AU Files Request For Trump Administration Documents About Religious Exemptions

  AU admin

Americans United on March 29 requested from eight federal agencies any documents created since President Donald J. Trump was elected relating to plans or considerations to permit people and institutions to cite religious beliefs as justification for discrimination.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request was sent to the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Justice, Labor, Education, Treasury, and Housing and Urban Development; the Office of Management and Budget; and the Office of Personnel Management.

AU requested all paper and electronic records generated since Nov. 8, 2016, including all proposed executive orders, regulations, policy statements, interpretations of law and instructions, and all related communications, that involve:

  • Allowing a person, including fed­eral employees, or a religiously affiliated, educational or other institution to seek a religious exemption to discriminate in employment, providing services, student admission, housing or health care.  
  • Material related to enforcement of a federal law that bars tax-exempt, religiously affiliated organizations from intervening in elections by endorsing or opposing political candidates.  
  • Denial of federal contracts, grants or employment for religiously affiliated institutions or people acting based on religious belief.  
  • The government’s response to any requests for religious exemptions.  
  • Any complaints received by the government alleging a federal contractor or grantee discriminated in employment or in providing services based on the sexual orientation, gender identity or religious beliefs of an employee or service recipient, and the government’s response to these complaints.  
  • All FOIA requests relating to potential executive orders or policy changes concerning religious exemptions and the documents produced for those requests.

AU is seeking the documents in order to better monitor the Trump administration’s plans regarding religious exemptions. A draft executive order was leaked in February that would have allowed religion to be used an excuse to discriminate against women, LGBTQ people, those of minority faiths, people who have sex outside of marriage and others.

The draft order, which has not been signed, also would have undermined enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, the provision in the tax code that prohibits tax-exempt organizations, including houses of worship, from endorsing or opposing political candidates.

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