Dwayne Leslie, director of legislative affairs at the General Conference, was one of a list of over 100 religious leaders who signed a letter this week asking US President Barack Obama for religious freedom protection in the executive order he plans to sign prohibiting federal contractors from considering sexual orientation or gender identity in hiring decisions.
The letter asks that religious groups, who are permitted to discriminate in their hiring based on their beliefs, not be barred from working with the government in such areas as:
1) overseas relief and development services in partnership with USAID (which increasingly employs contracts as well as grants); 2) services on contract with the Bureau of Prisons; and 3) research, technical assistance, and other services via contracts and subcontracts with other federal departments and agencies.
The letter wants religious exemption language and a non-retaliation clause included so that faith-based service organizations are protected.
The request is framed in the context of religious freedom. The letter says:
Our requests are grounded in the historical context of strong federal legal protections for religious organizations’ hiring practices. Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as upheld by a unanimous Supreme Court, religious organizations are free to consider religion when deciding who is most qualified to join their respective staffs. They are free under Title VII to maintain a conduct standard that reflects their religions’ sincerely held beliefs, which include deep convictions about human sexuality.
Many people think there are federal laws banning discrimination against gay and transgender individuals, but Obama’s efforts to get Congress to pass such an anti-discrimination law have failed. In 21 states, and the District of Columbia, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is banned, but in the other 29 states, employers are legally allowed to use sexual identity as a reason not to hire or to fire someone.
Because companies that do business with the government make up about a fifth of the U.S. workforce, gay rights advocates say the change could provide employment protections for about 11 million workers whose rights are not protected under state laws, according to a story in the LA Times.
Image: Last week Obama spoke to 550 supporters at a Democratic National Committee fundraising dinner for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender donors.