• Donald Trump signs an order that the White House says 'promotes free speech and religious liberty' in the Rose Garden of the White House, 04 May 2017. (EPA/JIM LO SCALZO)Source: EPA/JIM LO SCALZO
An executive order on religious liberty signed by President Trump does not include a license to discriminate, but activists fear the order creates a back-door mechanism for potential discrimination.
Ben Winsor

5 May 2017 - 11:37 AM  UPDATED 5 May 2017 - 11:53 AM

The Trump Administration appears to have avoided a clash with LGBT+ activists today, with the president signing an executive order on ‘religious liberty’ that does not include a ‘license to discriminate’ as feared by activists.

Trump signed the much-anticipated executive order in the White House rose garden surrounded by religious leaders - but it does not go as far as many supporters had hoped.

The executive order was considerably narrower and shorter than a proposal which leaked in February.

The draft fuelled fears among LGBT+ activists that federal contractors would be able to discriminate against LGBT+ employees and single mothers based on a ‘sincerely held religious belief’.

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The signed order – which was cheered by some religious supporters but left others disappointed – has only three substantive sections.

The order protects the tax-exempt status of religious groups which engage in politics; asks cabinet to consider allowing companies to exclude contraception from employee health plans; and directs the Attorney General to issue religious liberty guidelines for policymakers.

The LGBT Equality Caucus, a group of six openly gay members of congress, has said they will closely monitor the implementation of the order for any potential impacts on LGBT+ protections.

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"LGBTQ groups have condemned the decision, fearing it marks a significant step back in gender equality."

The Human Rights Campaign – an LGBT+ political group aligned with the Democrats – ran a strong campaign against what they branded a potential ‘license to discriminate’ ahead of the executive order.

While the order did not grant an explicit religious liberty exemption to discrimination laws, the group says it is concerned that President Trump’s Attorney General will use his power to issue guidelines which would effectively do the same thing.

“Donald Trump just let the fox into the hen house,” said the organisation’s Legal Director, Sarah Warbelow.

“Through this Executive Order, Trump has directed Attorney General Jeff Sessions – a man who has denied LGBTQ people equality under the law – to seek a license to discriminate across all areas of the government,” she said.

“We are watching and we will challenge any effort by Jeff Sessions or other agencies of Trump’s Administration to license discrimination.”

The group says that vulnerable federal regulations include the protection of hospital visitation rights and access to housing shelters, as well as non-discrimination provisions in foreign aid funding and federal spousal benefits.

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