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New Trump executive order could spark gay rights media storm

Another executive in the pipeline by president Donald Trump, could unleash a greater mainstream media storm than his immigration order ban on terror-linked Muslim countries.

Published: February 3, 2017, 12:00 pm

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    The draft of an executive order circulating in the Trump administration would dramatically expand the legal standing of religious groups and individuals, the Wall Street Journal reported.

    The order titled “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom” could lead to the denial of services to gay and transgender people, and contraception coverage for employees.

    It is aimed at conservative Christian voters who want to see their expanded influence in public life. According to the WSJ, the draft order instructs federal agencies to “avoid potential violations of Religious Freedom”, instructing officials not to coerce religious entities or individuals into “participating in activities that violate their conscience”.

    Signing such an order would unleash unprecedented rage over gay and reproductive rights, and transgender’s use of bathrooms. Corporations and sports leagues have already sided with gender advocacy groups, threatening to cancel events over legislation viewed as discriminatory.

    But Trump’s initiative could effectively gut many existing protections for the LGBT community as religious objections may render their allegations of discrimination obsolete.

    While speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday morning, Trump reiterated his commitment to expanding the role of faith in the public square, vowing to repeal the Johnson Amendment that bars churches from political activity. Those deemed in violation, risk losing their tax-exempt status. “I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution,” Trump told his audience.

    Catholic hospitals in the US are required to provide hormone therapy or hysterectomies to transgender people by law. “Many Americans voted for Donald Trump based on concerns about what the other candidate might do with regard to religious liberty,” said Greg Baylor, a lawyer with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal organisation.

    “This is conceptually in keeping with what I anticipate from this administration,” Tony Perkins, founder of the Family Research Council, a conservative advocacy group, said of the draft order. “We’ve seen policies in the last eight years that have sought to marginalize and intimidate people of orthodox Christian faith. This simply says the government can’t bully you. The IRS can’t be used to silence you.”

    But pro-gay groups were furious. “If the White House did even a fraction of the things that are in this draft executive order, that would be an unprecedented rollback of LGBT equality and rights,” David Stacy, director of government affairs for the Human Rights Campaign told the WSJ. “This would provide a blanket exemption for religious organisations not to have to follow any statute that they say violates their religious beliefs.”

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