President Trump wants to turn back the clock on the progress made by the LGBTQ community and block any hope of full equality. He also wants to reverse advances for women’s equality, including by blocking access to abortion and birth control. He’s already promised to appoint judges who will overturn Roe v. Wade, and now he wants to roll back LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, and those of many other Americans under the cover of “religious liberty.”
We know he wants to do this. We know because he has said so, and because he has taken preliminary steps to put his plan in motion. What we don’t know yet is exactly what he is planning on doing, and who he is consulting about it.
Earlier this year, the ACLU filed requests with various federal agencies demanding information on how the administration was planning to expand religious exemptions that pave the way for discrimination. None of those federal agencies complied.
That’s why we are suing today. We are looking to unmask everything we can about Trump’s plan, so we can best expose the threat he poses to the rights and dignity of countless Americans.
We know there are materials to uncover.
On May 4, Trump signed a vague and open-ended executive order claiming to promote “Free Speech and Religious Liberty.” In that order, Trump directed the Department of Justice and Attorney General Sessions to draft a “religious freedom” guidance. The order said little more.
But we have seen glimmers of what the administration has in mind, and it’s not good.
Starting with the most recent example, we know that a draft regulation currently circulating would permit any employer that objects for religious or moral reasons to deny its employees insurance coverage for contraception as otherwise mandated by law. The regulation would similarly let any university with religious or moral objections deny its students coverage. Today, if those employers or universities object, the insurance company generally picks up the coverage. That wouldn’t be true under the Trump draft. Instead, women would literally pay for their employer’s religion.
A draft order, leaked in February, suggests more to come. It read like a broad license to discriminate, primarily targeting LGBTQ people and women and also opening the door to others as well. Among other provisions, it proposed to permit discrimination in taxpayer funded foster care services, blocking children from being able to be welcomed into loving homes. It proposed exemptions for institutions that object on religious or moral grounds to interacting with married same-sex couples, transgender people or people who have had premarital sex. And it called for changes to contraceptive coverage now reflected in draft regulation that is circulating within the administration. Really, it was nothing less than a list of many, many ways to sanction institutions to discriminate in the name of religion.
While Governor of Indiana, Vice President Pence signed into law a measure that could sanction discrimination against LGBTQ people and women, among others. That law sparked widespread backlash and cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars.
Again, the question is, what is the administration now planning for the nation?
We are suing to find out. And we are ready to sue again, if appropriate, when the administration starts to act on those plans.
Religious liberty is fundamental. It guarantees the right to our beliefs. But religious liberty does not mean the right to impose our religion on others. It does not mean the right to harm others. It does not mean the right to discriminate.
We will not sit by while the administration distorts religious liberty to sanction to discrimination against women, religious minorities, and LGBTQ people.
We already know that a majority of Americans disapprove of these types of discriminatory religious exemptions, and believe that licensing discrimination under the guise of religious liberty undermines the foundation of freedom.
If the Trump administration is going to pursue these policies anyways, it’s time they come clean about what that looks like.
Louise Melling is a Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU and the Director of its Center for Liberty.