The New York Times Editorial Board has come out strongly urging that President Obama sign an executive order that would ban discrimination of LGBT employees by companies under federal contract and telling him that its time that he stand up and help push ENDA (The Employment Non-Discrimination Act) through Congress
Some conservative opponents of the act, known as ENDA, contend it would threaten religious freedom because its exemption for employers affiliated with religious organizations is too narrow. Actually, the proposed religious exemption is far too broad and needs to be scaled back. The American Civil Liberties Union and some gay rights groups rightly point out that as it is now drafted, the exemption — extending well beyond just houses of worship to hospitals and universities, for example, and encompassing medical personnel, billing clerks and others in jobs that are not directly involved in any religious function — amounts to a license to engage in the discrimination that ENDA is meant to remedy.
It is one thing for religious groups to further their religious mission by favoring people of their own faith in hiring, as Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act permits. It is quite another to allow the firing of a lesbian physician or transgender nurse when a hospital that is not affiliated with a religious group happens to merge with an institution that is. Under Title VII’s religious exemption, houses of worship and religion-affiliated entities are subject to the law’s prohibition against discrimination based on race, sex and national origin. ENDA’s religious exemption should treat sexual orientation and gender identity in a similar fashion. To do otherwise would leave too many jobs outside of ENDA’s protections.
Congress has a duty to stop dawdling and approve a strong bill. In the meantime, President Obama, a supporter of ENDA, can take a significant step toward ending discrimination in the workplace by issuing an executive order barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity by federal contractors. He has the power to protect millions of American workers, and it is about time he used it.
The NY Times points out that protections for people of religion are indeed included in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. One of the main arguments of many right-wing extremist groups and the GOP itself is that ENDA would five LGBT individuals “special rights” and protections while they have been enjoying them for the past 50 years.
ENDA has been introduced in every Congress since 1994. Similar legislation has been introduced without passage since 1974 unsuccessfully.