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Legal Scholars Sign Letter to President Obama Regarding Broad Religious Exemption View Count: 458

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President Barack Obama has been urged by 50 legal scholars to resist requests for broad religious exemptions in a forthcoming executive order that would prohibit sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination by federal contractors by federal contractors, according to LGBT Weekly.

The Columbia Law School Center for Gender and Sexuality Law is spearheading the effort as part of its Public Rights/Private Conscience Project.

A letter to the president, which has been signed by 54 legal scholars from across the country, argues that the broad exemption requested by some religious leaders is not a requirement of the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause, federal non-discrimination law Title VII or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The letter was signed by Columbia Law School professor Katherine Franke, Brooklyn Law School professor Nelson Tebbe and Public Rights/Private Conscience Project Director Kara Loewentheil.

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“The Supreme Court’s recent opinion in Hobby Lobby and order in Wheaton College do not compel in any way the inclusion of religious exemptions language in an executive order prohibiting discrimination against LGBT employees of federal contractors,” said Franke. “Including an exemption for religious discrimination in an executive order securing work-place rights for LGBT people sends a message that the federal government has a more ambivalent commitment to sexual orientation and gender-identity based discrimination as compared with other forms of workplace equality.”

According to Loewentheil, the letter “reflects an emerging consensus among legal scholars that a proper balance between religious liberty and equal rights can be struck without creating carve-outs for religion in new laws protecting LGBT or reproductive rights.”

“We are delighted that many prominent scholars in the legal academy signed this letter,” Loewentheil added. ”The views of these scholars provide responsible counsel to the White House as it considers the wording of an important new executive order securing LGBT and gender identity non-discrimination rules for employers who receive public funding.” 

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