President Donald Trump on Thursday marked the National Day of Prayer by signing an executive order creating a new office aimed at giving churches and other faith-based organizations a stronger political voice. But some LGBTQ advocates fear this administration could use the new order as ammunition to target their communities.
The order, entitled the “Establishment of a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative,” will form a “faith initiative,” headed by a yet-to-be-appointed advisor. This advisor will alert the administration to “any failures of the executive branch to comply with religious liberty protections under law,” according to a press release.
“This office will also help ensure that faith-based organizations have equal access to government funding and the equal right to exercise their deeply held beliefs,” Trump said Thursday.
Previous presidents, including Barack Obama and George W. Bush, created similar versions of this office during their respective tenures. Trump’s order, however, sparked concern among a number of LGBTQ advocacy groups. Many fear that it may encourage discrimination against LGBTQ people in the name of religion.
Lambda Legal, a national legal nonprofit focused on LGBTQ issues that is based in New York, warned of the potential “weaponization” of religious freedom in a series of tweets Thursday.
Rachel Laser, president of the watchdog group Americans United for Separation of Church and State, echoed these sentiments, saying that Trump’s efforts would be used “to divide and discriminate.”
“Our government should protect religious freedom, not use it as a sword to harm others,” she said in a press release. “Today’s order is one more attempt by Trump, cheered by his Evangelical Advisory Board, to redefine religious freedom to mean the freedom to discriminate against those who do not share your religious beliefs.”
According to GLAAD’s Vice President of Programs Zeke Stokes, the move “would not be alarming, except for the anti-LGBTQ extremists and organizations who have the president’s loyalty and his ear.”
“GLAAD will be monitoring closely to see who is tapped to lead this initiative,” he told HuffPost in a Friday email, “and you can bet we will hold that person accountable and this initiative accountable just as we have this entire Administration since its beginning.”
The American Civil Liberties Union also expressed concern, saying the Trump administration has a history of using the law to impose certain beliefs on others or to discriminate.
The exact implications of the executive order on the LGBTQ community are unclear. But the aforementioned groups’ worry may not be unfounded: The White House press release announcing the order stressed the Trump administration’s support of “baker Jack Phillips’s right to operate his bakery in accordance with his religious beliefs.”
Later this spring, the Supreme Court is set to rule on the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. This decision will determine whether Phillips was illegally discriminating against a same-sex couple when he refused to create a cake for their wedding ceremony.
Many believe the court’s decision in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case will be the most significant for LGBTQ people since the 2015 landmark ruling on same-sex marriage.