- The Washington Times
Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Obama administration announced a rule last week that threatens to strip federal contracts from religious relief organizations and charities that adhere to traditional views of gender and sexuality, continuing a trend of governmental hostility toward religion.

National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice said the rule prohibits organizations that contract with the U.S. Agency for International Development from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the administration of aid.

“The United States also needs to do more to institutionalize efforts to promote LGBT rights,” Ms. Rice said in a speech at American University last week on the state of gay rights around the world.

“As part of that commitment, I’m pleased to note that just yesterday a new rule went into effect that explicitly prohibits discrimination by USAID contractors. This rule means that any organization that contracts with USAID must ensure that all people can benefit from its federally funded programs, regardless of race, religion, disability — or sexual orientation and gender identity,” she said.

“It’s a major step toward ensuring that American assistance is provided in a fair and equitable manner,” she said.

Roger Severino, director of the Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society, said the rule will create more problems than it solves.

“Of course everyone that is eligible for aid should receive it, but the new rule is a solution in search of a problem and threatens religious aid organizations that provide vital services in reasonable and culturally sensitive ways,” Mr. Severino said. “For example, disaster relief agencies may now be required to open their women’s shower and sleeping facilities to biological males who self-identify as women or be stripped of all funding for alleged ‘gender identity discrimination.’”

Private contractors and nonprofits, many of them Catholic charities or religious humanitarian organizations, receive $16 billion in funding from USAID every year to fight poverty, start schools and eradicate disease, among other endeavors.

The Human Rights Campaign advocated a rule barring USAID contractors from discrimination against gay and transgender people in its 2015 Blueprint for Positive Change.

The gay rights organization said it will work with USAID to ensure the policy is implemented “as robustly as possible, including by reducing or ending U.S. funding to organizations that have discriminated against LGBTQ people.”

David Stacy, the Human Rights Campaign’s director of government affairs, called on the Obama administration to expand the rule to cover discrimination in employment.

“While this is a step forward, we ultimately hope to see all implementers across all U.S. foreign affairs agencies — including USAID — include nondiscrimination policies that cover not only the services they provide, but also the people they hire,” Mr. Stacy said in a statement. “No organization supported by U.S. taxpayer dollars should turn anyone away because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

In a one-page statement detailing the new policy, the Human Rights Campaign also said the rule should apply to USAID grantees.

“HRC will also continue to advocate for similar protections for LGBTQ people served by other U.S. foreign agencies including the Department of State in order to ensure that American dollars are never used to enable discrimination,” the paper said.

Brian Burch, president of Catholic Vote, said there is an “exceptionally worrisome” trend of governmental hostility toward religion. He also pointed to a report issued by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that said “religious freedom” and “religious liberty” are simply code words for “intolerance” and “Christian supremacy.”

“I think it’s the height of hypocrisy, particularly on the part of the LGBT movement, that said, less than two years ago, that the only thing they wanted was to be able to marry the person they love,” Mr. Burch said. “Well, that’s clearly not all they want.”

The USAID rule is not the only instance of the Obama administration putting the commission’s words into practice.

The president is prepared to veto the annual National Defense Authorization Act if it contains a provision protecting religious organizations from discrimination in the issuance of federal grants and contracts.

Although the Russell Amendment is a restatement of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, White House officials said Mr. Obama will veto the must-pass legislation if the final version contains the provision, as the House-passed version does, Roll Call reported.

“Time and again, we see that when the LGBT agenda conflicts with religious liberty, according to President Obama, religious liberty must lose,” Mr. Severino said.

Pointing to a report from Faith Counts that shows religious charities, businesses and congregations contribute $1.2 trillion to the U.S. economy, Mr. Severino said the Obama administration’s assault on religious liberty is misguided.

“Every day, people of faith are contributing to society — sweat, money, education, effort and love — in a way that government simply can’t do,” he said. “They’re indispensable, and they have to be a part of the equation.”

• Bradford Richardson can be reached at brichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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