In a response to President Donald Trump’s executive order regarding religious freedom, Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-47) joined 195 members of the House and 46 senators Thursday to introduce the Equality Act, legislation aimed at banning discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
Trump’s executive order, the Presidential Order Promoting Free Speech and Liberty which was signed Thursday in the presence of religious leaders as part of the National Day of Prayer, instructs the Department of the Treasury to not take “any adverse action” against religious organizations or churches that endorse or oppose political candidates from behind the pulpit.
The order notes “adverse action” to mean imposing taxes or tax penalties or delaying or denying tax exemption status.
Under the Johnson Amendment, religious organizations are prohibited from endorsing or opposing political candidates.
The executive order also suggests the DOT, the Department of Labor and Health and Human Services to consider amending regulations that require employers to provide birth control in their employee health care packages.
“This order invokes ‘religious liberty’ as a license to undermine women’s access to contraception, and to chip away at the separation between church and state by promising churches and other houses of worship broader leeway on political lobbying – something the majority of Americans – including people of faith – oppose,” the GLGBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders said in a statement.
“We are far too familiar with attempts to use the language of religious liberty not to support our critical First Amendment freedoms, but as a justification for circumventing equally critical non-discrimination protections,” the statement continued.
An original copy of the order leaked to The Nation in February contained provisions to protect the religious freedom of businesses and individuals “when providing social services, education, or healthcare; earning a living, seeking a job, or employing others; receiving government grants or contracts; or otherwise participating in the marketplace, the public square, or interfacing with Federal, State or local governments.”
The draft essentially legalized discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity under the guise of “religious freedom.”
The Equality Act, originally introduced to Congress in 2015, would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and make discrimination for the above reasons illegal when applied to public accommodations, federal funding, education, employment, housing, credit and jury service.
“We have come so far and made a great deal of progress on the issue of equality for all Americans, but now is not the time to rest on our past victories,” Lowenthal said in statement. “It has never been more critical that we push forward toward our goal of passing the Equality Act so that no American can be discriminated against, harassed, or denied service because of their sexual orientation or gender identity."
Even though gay marriage is legal in the United States, 31 states have no laws making discrimination against LGBT people illegal. LGBT people can be fired, evicted or denied a loan because of their identity.
A 2015 study by the Human Rights Campaign found that 63 percent of LGBT Americans reported being discriminated against due to their gender and sexual identity. Another study found that one in 10 LGBT workers have been fired by an employer at some point because of how they identified.
"We must push forward,” Lowenthal said. “Even in the face of efforts to erase not only the progress of the last eight years, but to take us back to a time before Stonewall and Independence Hall. President Trump, through his rhetoric and actions, has empowered a wave of homophobic sentiment throughout the nation. The politics of the president should be a call to arms for every American who believes in our nation's immortal declaration that we are all created equal. By passing the Equality Act we can take one more step toward making that declaration reality."