Obama’s Executive Order and What it Means for Catholic Organizations

Without exemptions for religious organizations, the new federal policy may hinder the work of Catholic social service providers and educational institutions.

I called it. One month ago, I warned readers of CatholicVote.org about a new executive order that would be coming out from the Obama White House. The article garnered more than 45,000 views and in excess of 5,600 Facebook “likes.” Then, I took to the air waves, appearing on the EWTN Global Catholic Radio network and the Relevant Radio network, among others, to warn listeners about the forthcoming order. I said this was going to be serious stuff. At first, out ahead of the curve, I was a lone voice. But, I ended up being right on all counts.

Yesterday afternoon, President Obama signed into law further amendments to Executive Orders 11478 and 11246. His amendments will come into full force in 2015. These new directives should concern Catholics deeply.

The first of those orders establishes, “It is the policy of the United States to provide equal opportunity in federal employment for all persons, to prohibit discrimination in employment because of race, color, religion, national origin, handicap, age, sexual orientation or status as a parent, and to promote the full realization of equal employment opportunity through a continuing affirmative program in each executive department and agency.” Furthermore, that order dictates, “This policy of equal opportunity applies to and must be an integral part of every aspect of personnel policy and practice in the employment, advancement, and treatment of civilian employees of the federal government, to the extent permitted by law.”

In essence, Executive Order 11246 mandates the same measures, but with respect to federal contractors and subcontractors. According to the US Department of Labor, the second order (11246) “prohibits federal contractors and subcontractors and federally-assisted construction contractors and subcontractors that generally have contracts that exceed $10,000 from discriminating in employment decisions on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” In addition, that order “requires covered contractors to take affirmative action to ensure that equal opportunity is provided in all aspects of their employment.”

Complete text of the new mandates, signed yesterday, can be read online. But, in a nutshell, the amendments broaden the measures of equal employment opportunities to include “sexual orientation, gender identity” instead of just “sexual orientation.” Moving forward, this means that the federal government as well as federal contractors will be prohibited from discriminating against persons who are homosexual or transgendered.

At first blush, the orders might seem innocuous. Even the Catechism of the Catholic Church warns about discrimination against homosexuals, stating, “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (CCC 2358). But further examination of the amendments signed into law yesterday expose the problems latent in them.

FOX News reports, “The executive order would prevent Christian and other religious organizations with federal contracts from requiring workers to adhere to the tenets of their religious beliefs.” The implications of such a directive are far-reaching.

In an interview with FOX News’ Todd Starnes, Peter Sprigg, the Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at the Family Research Council, explained, “If religious organizations cannot require that their employees conduct themselves in ways consistent with the teachings of their faith—then, essentially, those organizations are unable to operate in accordance with their faith.” Sprigg noted, “This level of coercion is nothing less than viewpoint blackmail that bullies into silence every contractor and subcontractor who has moral objections to homosexual behavior.”

To take just one example of how the new amendments to Executive Orders 11478 and 11246 will hit Catholics hard, consider the cases of Catholic adoption agencies and Catholic colleges. Catholic adoption agencies that contract with the federal government to provide important social services would either have to forfeit their contracts or meet the demands of the executive orders. Agencies choosing the latter path would have to place children with same-sex couples. And Catholic colleges or universities with federal contracts would violate the amendments to Executive Order 11246 if those schools fired a homosexual who—for example—agitated against Church teaching while on the job.

Already, Catholic leaders in Boston and Washington, DC have encountered similar scenarios. In 2010, the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, led by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, was forced out of the adoption social service for refusing to place children in the homes of same-sex couples. Boston’s Cardinal O’Malley faced the same problem in 2006. At the time, the cardinals were battling local discrimination laws. Now, dioceses and adoption agencies across the nation will have to deal with federal executive orders.

As the amendments to the two executive orders come into effect over the course of the next 12 months, here are three things Catholics concerned about religious freedom and the truth about marriage, the family, and the human person should know right now.

1. The Obama White House set to work on the amendments to the two executive orders at the same time it was battling its most considerable political challenges and judicial setbacks to date. At mid-summer, the Obama administration suffered a number of setbacks at the US Supreme Court. And recent months have witnessed an explosion of global crises. Without doubt, the Obama White House needed to reenergize its base of liberal progressives.

On July 21, the same day President Obama signed the executive orders, John Zogby of Zogby Analytics assigned a grade of “F” to the president, observing, “It just seems that even those who have been so hopeful of this president are finally just giving up. Things just appear to be out control [sic], at least out of his control.”

The same day John Zogby made his comments, Gallup published a report that corroborated his claims. The afternoon the president signed the directives, Gallup reported that President Obama “averaged 43.2 percent job approval during his 22nd quarter in office, from April 20 through July 19.” Gallup noted, “That is a minimal increase from the prior quarter’s 42.4 percent average, but still ranks among the lowest for Obama to date.”

At this juncture, President Obama is grasping at straws, attempting to galvanize and re-inspire his base. Time will tell whether these newest directives will resolve Obama’s polling problems.

2. But there is reason to believe that the directives will not accomplish their political goals. As a matter of fact, while the liberal news media has been presenting the new amendments as a win-win for the Obama team, the truth of the matter is that there are those among the president’s own allies who are opposed to the new measures.

As Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post reported at the beginning of this month, “Fourteen prominent faith leaders—including some of President Obama’s closest advisers—want the White House to create a religious exemption from his [then] planned executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against gays and lesbians in hiring.” The list of those who requested special consideration for religious groups included Michael Wear, the former director of President Obama’s outreach to faith groups during the 2012 campaign and former staffer in the White House Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships; Stephen Schneck, the former co-chairman of Catholics for Obama and the current director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America; and Joel Hunter, a Florida mega-pastor who is a close spiritual advisor to the president, among others. The White House ignored the letter despite the fact that it bore the signatures of some of Obama’s most vocal faith-based supporters.

3. While the president’s newest directives concern the federal government and federal contractors, including a roster of faith-based federal contractors, it is possible that similar measures could be applied to federal grant recipients. Even the left-of-center National Catholic Reporter’s Father Thomas Reese, SJ warned, “So far, the executive order deals only with contracts, not grants. … But there is little doubt that if the administration is successful dealing with contracts, grants will soon be on the firing line.” Father Reese notes, “This is important because most of the money going to Catholic charities to help the poor comes in the form of grants, not contracts.”

That means that Catholics concerned about the freedom of the Church and Church teaching about marriage and the family need to keep on top of this developing news and action item now.

Defenders of traditional marriage might have lost this round. Let’s not lose the next.

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About John Paul Shimek 0 Articles
John Paul Shimek is a Roman Catholic theologian and a specialist on Vatican affairs. In March 2013, he reported from Rome on the election of Pope Francis, the first Latin American pope in the history of the Catholic Church.