Faith leaders urge President Obama to minimize religious exemption for protection against LGBT discrimination

On July 8, over a hundred high-level faith leaders from diverse religious traditions signed and sent a letter to President Obama, urging him to minimize a religious exemption in his upcoming executive order protecting LGBT people from discrimination.

The exemption, if included, would allow companies and service agencies that receive federal contracts to fire people for being LGBT for "religious" reasons." According to the New York Times, that means LGBT people would be able to be fired from huge companies that do business with the federal government, such as Exxon Mobil and Dell, as well as universities and charities that have federal contracts, provided that the employers fire them on "religious" grounds.

The faith leaders who signed this letter, however, held that favoring discrimination is anything but "religious." Bishop Gene Robinson (shown below), the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, said on the matter,

It is not right for any person or any corporation to use their religious beliefs, no matter how sincerely held, to trample the rights and beliefs of others… Nothing could be more contrary to the Golden Rule, articulated in every world religion.

Among the letter's signers were five seminary presidents, four former members of the President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, five members of a presidential taskforce to reform the office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, heads of nonprofits, denomination heads, congregational clergy, scholars and theologians.

The letter was in part a response to last week's Hobby Lobby decision, which created a slippery slope for "religious" exemptions of protecting basic human rights. Jay Michaelson, a visiting scholar at Brown University and author of God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality, warned,

Those pushing for exemptions will not be satisfied until the underlying laws themselves are destroyed. For this reason, it is important to hold firm and refuse any ‘religious exemption’ except the most narrow ones for churches and ministers. Anything else is just playing into the hands of those who oppose equality.

Along with this week's letter, more than 30,000 Christians from across the country have signed a grassroots petition urging President Obama to stand strong in the face of religious leaders seeking to use their faith as a justification for anti-LGBT discrimination. The petition, organized by the online community Faithful America, reads, “There's nothing Christian about firing someone just because they're gay or lesbian. Taxpayer dollars shouldn't fund discrimination."

Rev. Fred Davie, a former member of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the Executive Vice President at Union Theological Seminary, noted that those who support a religious exemption are on the wrong side of history:

Religions of the world across the ages have engendered and supported discrimination and bigotry from deceptively genteel to utterly horrific…We have also sacrificed our very lives for our neighbors in response to God's radical and unrelenting call to love others as much as we love ourselves. I ask now that we opt for love of the other and inclusion, especially when accepting the public's money.

Read the full letter sent to President Obama here.