In advance of an LGBT gala put on by the Democratic National Committee, the White House this week announced that it was preparing an Executive Order for the President’s signature similar to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, President & CEO of NRB, quickly responded with a letter to the President requesting that he reconsider this course.
“NRB has long warned against the ramifications of this bill on the First Amendment rights of faith-based organizations,” he wrote, “and I am concerned similar constitutional challenges may arise for some federal contractors with such an order from the White House.”
President Obama, who recently declared June to be LGBT Pride Month, recounted at the DNC event his LGBT-priority accomplishments and his ongoing efforts, including ENDA. Expressing frustration with Congress for not moving the bill, he declared, “I’ve directed my staff to prepare for my signature, an executive order prohibiting discrimination by federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity…. [I]n the United States of America, who you are and who you love shouldn’t be a fireable offense.”
However, Dr. Johnson wrote to the President about NRB’s longstanding concern with ENDA, specifically its faulty religious protection clause. Citing the Congressional testimony of Craig Parshall, NRB Senior Vice President and General Counsel, on ENDA’s problems, he declared, “ENDA remains convoluted for employers committed to honoring the tenets of their faith in the workplace. Indeed, I am concerned that ambiguity regarding the rights of religious organizations is likely to stir litigation and to compromise one of our nation’s First Amendment liberties.”
ENDA (S.815/ H.R.1755) would create new employment rights for individuals based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The Senate approved this bill last November by a 64-32 vote without resolving its First Amendment problems. In the House, ENDA is sponsored by Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and has 201 Representatives signed on in support.
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations
Published: June 20, 2014