Press Release: Faith leaders ask President to say no to a religious exemption to discriminate against the LGBT community
By Auburn
July 08, 2014


JULY 8, 2014


JEFF BRIDGES | | (303) 358-5551 (c)
SUSAN BARNETT | | (212) 989-2956 (w) (917) 841-0221 (c)


WASHINGTON, DC — More than one hundred faith leaders from across the country are asking President Obama to leave out a religious exemption in his upcoming executive order which seeks to ban job discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation among federal contractors. The letter, signed by a diverse group of high-level religious leaders and clergy, was delivered to the White House today.

“As people of faith, we should be exemplary and not exempted,” said Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary and one of five seminary presidents to sign the letter. “Jesus came to protect the most vulnerable. The faith community that taught me never to throw stones should not have special permission from the White House to throw stones. It is simply theologically indefensible.”

In addition to the seminary presidents, signers of the letter include four former members of the President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, five members of a presidential taskforce to reform the office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, heads of nonprofits, denomination heads, congregational clergy, scholars and theologians.

“Those of us who are old enough to remember hearing religious arguments for segregation know that just because an argument is based on religious tradition doesn't mean it's just or good,” said Rev. Brian McLaren, a leading evangelical and head of the Cana Initiative. “That's why so many of us who believe in religious liberty don't want religious liberty used as a smokescreen to aid, abet, and protect prejudice.”

In addition to today’s letter, more than 30,000 Christians from across the country have signed a grassroots petition urging President Obama to stand strong in the face of religious leaders seeking to use their faith as a justification for anti-gay discrimination. The petition, organized by the online community Faithful America, reads, “There's nothing Christian about firing someone just because they're gay or lesbian. Taxpayer dollars shouldn't fund discrimination.”

“No person should have to face discrimination while accessing federally-supported social services,” said Rev. Harry Knox, President and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. “If a provider is allowed to use unfair and unequal practices in their hiring, it’s more than reasonable to suspect that they will discriminate against their clients. The best way to ensure that the people seeking services receive equal treatment is to ensure that federal contractors don’t discriminate, period.”

“It is not right for any person or any corporation to use their religious beliefs, no matter how sincerely held, to trample the rights and beliefs of others,” said Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. “Nothing could be more contrary to the Golden Rule, articulated in every world religion.”

The letter from faith leaders and the Faithful America petition were in part a response by last week’s Hobby Lobby decision, a slippery slope that is already expanding the applicability of religious exemptions, and challenges earlier letters from faith leaders urging Obama to include a religious exemption in his upcoming executive order.

“Those pushing for exemptions will not be satisfied until the underlying laws themselves are destroyed,” warned Jay Michaelson, a visiting scholar at Brown University and author of God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality. “For this reason, it is important to hold firm and refuse any ‘religious exemption’ except the most narrow ones for churches and ministers. Anything else is just playing into the hands of those who oppose equality.”

Rev. Fred Davie, a former member of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the Executive Vice President at Union Theological Seminary, noted that those who support a religious exemption are on the wrong side of history. "Religions of the world across the ages have engendered and supported discrimination and bigotry from deceptively genteel to utterly horrific,” said Davie. “We have also sacrificed our very lives for our neighbors in response to God's radical and unrelenting call to love others as much as we love ourselves. I ask now that we opt for love of the other and inclusion, especially when accepting the public's money.”

Rev. Dr. Katharine Rhodes Henderson, President of Auburn Theological Seminary, concludes,"We stand in support of President Obama signing the executive order to end discrimination against the LGBT community in federal contracting. A growing multifaith movement of religious leaders is helping the faithful understand how religious teachings and texts compel acceptance — and celebration — of LGBT people and relationships, not rejection.”

Full text of the letter with all signers follows, and is available online:


July 8, 2014

President Barack Obama

The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Washington, DC 20500

C/O Melissa Rogers, Executive Director, White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships

Dear Mr. President,

As faith and civic leaders dedicated to affirming the sacred dignity and equal worth of every person, we are grateful for your upcoming executive order ending discrimination against LGBT people in hiring by federal contractors. We urge you not to include a religious exemption in the executive order. In keeping with the principle that our government must adhere to the highest standards of ethics and fairness in its own operations, we believe that public dollars should not be used to sanction discrimination.

We recognize in others, and have ourselves heard, a faithful calling to contribute to our communities and country through public service. The imperative to seek healing and justice is one of the most widely shared values across religious traditions and our world is better because of it.

In our democratic nation, we believe that public service—especially when it is directly supported by the federal government and our tax dollars—must be aligned with the Constitutional principle that all people deserve equal treatment under the law. Requiring all federal contractors to operate according to the same set of non-discriminatory hiring practices is more than fair; it is a critical safeguard that protects all parties. If contractors were allowed to selectively follow employment or other laws according to their religious beliefs, we would quickly create an untenable morass of legal disputes. Furthermore, if selective exemptions to the executive order were permitted, the people who would suffer most would be the people who always suffer most when discrimination is allowed: the individuals and communities that are already marginalized.Increasing the obstacles faced by those at the margins is precisely the opposite of what public service can and should do, and is precisely the opposite of the values we stand for as people of faith.

In a nation as diverse as the United States of America, it is critical that the federal government be trusted to follow—and indeed, to role-model—equitable employment practices. We believe that our mutual commitment to the common good is best served by policies that prohibit discrimination based on factors that have no relationship whatsoever to job performance. We are better and stronger as a nation when hiring decisions are made based on professional merit rather than personal identity.

An executive order that allows for religious discrimination against LGBT people contradicts the order’s fundamental purpose, as well as the belief shared by more and more Americans every day, which is that LGBT people should not be treated as second-class citizens. An exception would set a terrible precedent by denying true equality for LGBT people, while simultaneously opening a Pandora’s Box inviting other forms of discrimination.

In addition to protecting current and potential employees, we believe ensuring that federal contractors do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in their hiring helps to reduce the likelihood that these contractors will discriminate against clients or other parties in the provision of services. If contractors are free to discriminate in their hiring, it is at least plausible, if not probable, to conclude that clients will experience discrimination as well. We believe that the best way to eliminate discrimination at one level is to reduce discrimination at all levels.

We are a pluralistic nation—one that is among the most religiously diverse and devout in the world. Each day we continue to make progress on our journey toward “a more perfect union,” in which all God’s children are treated with fairness and dignity. Many forces help spur this progress. They include the courage of everyday people who live openly as who they truly are; the witness of faith leaders who provide a compass for religious growth; the commitment of political leaders such as yourself who help guide our nation toward a more just path; and the passage of laws and policies that ensure fair treatment for all people.

In conclusion, Mr. President, we believe that the path to national unity lies in affirming the full equality and potential of every person. In the spirit of equality, fairness, and justice, we urge you to issue an executive order that ends discrimination against LGBT people in federal contracting without exceptions.

In Faith,

Imam Daayiee Abdullah
Light of Reform Mosque, Washington, DC

Rabbi Jonathan Adland
Clergy Advocacy Board, Planned Parenthood Federation of America

Dr. Michael J. Adee
Director, Global Faith and Justice Project

Rev. Dr. Susan R. Andrews
Moderator of the 215th General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (USA)

Rev. Dr. Jim Antal
Minister and President, Massachusetts Conference, United Church of Christ

Rev. Ed Bacon
Rector, All Saints Church, Pasadena Karen Barr Moderator, GLAD Alliance, Inc.

The Most Rev. Craig Bergland
Presiding Bishop, Universal Anglican Church

Matthew Berryman
Executive Director, Reconciling Ministries Network

Rev. Geoffrey Black
General Minister and President, United Church of Christ

Rabbi Richard Block
President, Central Conference of American Rabbis

Rabbi Sharon Brous
Founding Rabbi, IKAR, Los Angeles

Rev. Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock
Director, Soul Repair Center, Brite Divinity School

Rev. Dr. Ken Brooker-Langston
Executive Director, Disciples Center for Public Witness

Rev. Pat Bumgardner
Executive Director, Global Justice Institute, Metropolitan Community Churches

Rev. Dr. Marjorie L. Coons-Torn
Conference Minister, Penn Central Conference, United Church of Christ

Stosh Cotler
Chief Executive Officer, Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice

Rev. Richard W. Cowles, Jr.
Interim Conference Minister, Maine Conference, United Church of Christ

Rev. Dr. Davida Foy Crabtree
Interim Conference Minister, Florida Conference, United Church of Christ

Ann Craig, M.Div.
Director of Administration, The Fellowship Global

Rev. Jennifer D. Crumpton
Park Avenue Christian Church, New York City

Rev. Fred Davie
Executive Vice President, Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York

Francis DeBernardo
Executive Director, New Ways Ministry

Rev. Dr. John Deckenback
Conference Minister, Central Atlantic Conference, United Church of Christ

Rev. Dr. Miguel A. De La Torre
Professor of Social Ethics and Latino/a Studies, Iliff School of Theology

Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer
Conference Minister, Southwest Conference, United Church of Christ

Marianne Duddy-Burke
Executive Director, DignityUSA

Rev. Roddy Dunkerson
Conference Minister, Nebraska Conference, United Church of Christ

Rev. Dr. Beverley F. Edwards
Interim Conference Minister, Rhode Island Conference, United Church of Christ

Rabbi Denise Eger
Senior Rabbi, Congregation Kol Ami, West Hollywood

Rev. Brian D. Ellison
Executive Director, Covenant Network of Presbyterians

Rabbi Marla J. Feldman
Executive Director, Women of Reform Judaism

Jim FitzGerald
Executive Director, Call To Action

Rev. Dr. Allen Fluent
Acting Conference Minister, Missouri Mid-South Conference, United Church of Christ

Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder
Presiding Bishop, The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries

Rabbi Steve Fox
Chief Executive Officer, Central Conference of American Rabbis

Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy
President, Interfaith Alliance

Rev. David R. Gaewski
Conference Minister, New York Conference, United Church of Christ

Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL
Executive Coordinator, National Coalition of American Nuns

Rev. Dr. Galen Guengerich
Senior Pastor, All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, New York City

Dr. Edith Guffey
Conference Minister, Kansas and Oklahoma Conference, United Church of Christ

Rev. Debra W. Haffner
President and Chief Executive Officer, Religious Institute

The Very Reverend Gary R. Hall
Dean, Washington National Cathedral

Rev. Dr. Katharine Henderson
President, Auburn Theological Seminary

Rev. Dr. Alice Hunt
President, Chicago Theological Seminary

Dr. Mary E. Hunt
Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER)

Rabbi Rick Jacobs
President, Union for Reform Judaism

Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo
Executive Minister, United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

Rev. Jay Emerson Johnson, Ph.D.
Senior Director, Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry, Pacific School of Religion

Rev. Dr. Serene Jones
President, Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York

Senior Bishop Zachary G. Jones
Unity Fellowship Church Movement

Nancy K. Kaufman
Chief Executive Officer, National Council of Jewish Women

Rev. Rob Keithan
Director of Public Policy, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

Frances Kissling
President, Center for Health, Ethics and Social Policy

Idit Klein Executive
Director, Keshet

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum
Senior Rabbi, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, New York City

Rev. Harry Knox
President and Chief Executive Officer, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

Rabbi Debra Kolodny
Executive Director, Nehirim

Rev. Dr. Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan
President, Claremont School of Theology

Andy Lang
Executive Director, Open and Affirming Coalition of the United Church of Christ

The Rev. Dr. Jacqueline J. Lewis
Senior Minister, Middle Collegiate Church, New York City

Rev. Odette Lockwood-Stewart
Director of Field Education and Contextual Learning, Pacific School of Religion

Rev. Dr. Cindi Love
The Church of Uncommon Hope, Washington, DC

Rev. Robin R. Lunn
Executive Director, Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists

Rev. Barry Lynn
Executive Director, Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Ruth W. Messinger
President, American Jewish World Service

JamieAnn Meyers
Transgender Representative and Board Member, ReconcilingWorks: Lutherans for Full Participation

Rabbi Dr. Jay Michaelson
Brown University

Rev. Alan C. Miller
Conference Minister, Penn Northeast Conference, United Church of Christ

Dr. Randall Miller
Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean, Pacific School of Religion

Rev. Dr. James L. McDonald
President and Professor of Faith and Public Life, San Francisco Theological Seminary

Rev. Brian McLaren
The Cana Initiative

Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt
President, Starr King School for the Ministry

Alex Patchin McNeill
Executive Director, More Light Presbyterians

Rev. Peter Morales
President, Unitarian Universalist Association

Rev. Darlene Nipper
Deputy Executive Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

Jon O’Brien
President, Catholics for Choice

Marilyn Paarlberg
Executive Director, Room for All, Reformed Church in America

Rev. Dr. Rich Pleva
Conference Minister, Iowa Conference, United Church of Christ

Chett Pritchet
Executive Director, Methodist Federation for Social Action

The Very Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale
President and Dean, Episcopal Divinity School

Dr. Hussein Rashid
Founder, islamicate, L3C

Bishop Tonyia M. Rawls
Sacred Souls Community Church and the Freedom Center for Social Justice

Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow
Moderator of the 218th General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (USA)

Bishop Gene Robinson
The Episcopal Church

Rev. Canon Susan Russell
Senior Associate Minister, All Saints Church, Pasadena

Rabbi David Saperstein
Director and Counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Dr. Bernard Schlager
Interim President, Pacific School of Religion

Bishop John Selders
Bishop Presider, InterDenominational Conference of Liberation Congregations and Ministries

Rev. Kent Siladi
Conference Minister, Connecticut Conference, United Church of Christ

Sandy Sorensen
Director, United Church of Christ, Washington Office

Rev. Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle
Director of Field Education and Supervised Ministry, Brite Divinity School

Rev. Dr. Jack Sullivan
President, Disciples Justice Action Network

Bishop Melvin G. Talbert
The United Methodist Church

Vivian Taylor
Executive Director, Integrity USA

Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite
Professor of Theology, Chicago Theological Seminary

Pastor Joseph Tolton
Executive Director, The Fellowship Global

Rev. Dr. Emilie M. Townes
E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of Womanist Ethics and Society, Vanderbilt Divinity School

Rev. John H. Vaughn
Executive Vice President, Auburn Theological Seminary

Rev. Elder Dr. Nancy Wilson
Moderator, Metropolitan Community Churches

Deb Word
President, Fortunate Families


Media Contacts
Jeff Bridges, 303-358-5551,
Susan Barnett, 212-989-2956,