President Donald Trump has signed an executive order that could be used to allow discrimination against LGBTQ people on the basis of “religious freedom”.
While not specifically targeting the LGBTQ community, the order instructs Attorney General Jeff Sessions to provide guidance to all federal agencies on “interpreting religious liberty protections in Federal law”.
This effectively gives the attorney general discretion to create a religious “license to discriminate” in agencies across the federal government.
After signing the order on Thursday, Trump said: “We will not allow people of faith to be bullied, targeted or silenced anymore, and we will never stand for religious discrimination, never ever.
“For too long the federal government has used the power of the state as a weapon against people of faith, bullying and even punishing Americans for following their religious beliefs,” he insisted.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) warned that “Donald Trump just let the fox into the hen house”, noting that Sessions has a terrible record on LGBTI equality.
As a senator he was against hate-crimes laws, opposed marriage equality, and has been a supporter of discrimination in the name of “religious freedom”. In February, his department reversed guidelines issued by the Obama administration that barred schools from discriminating against transgender students.
“This order is incredibly alarming,” commented HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow, “particularly for millions of LGBTQ people and women across the nation who are among those most frequently subjected to discrimination under the guise of religion.”
Warbelow argued that the sweeping order “could result in an unprecedented expansion of religious exemptions affecting employment, services, and programs”.
She added: “Revisiting federal law, including regulations and policies, will almost certainly have significant implications for LGBTQ people.”
The order, claims HRC, could down the line be used to limit hospital visitation rights, emergency and public housing, spousal or survivor benefits and health provision and insurance.
“We are watching and we will challenge any effort by Jeff Sessions or other agencies of Trump’s Administration to license discrimination,” said Warbelow.