Public Policy

LGBT rights: Religious exemption prompts ACLU to withdraw support for Non-Discrimination Act

October 13, 2014

gay pride parade on Ocean Drive, Art Deco hotels, people

The ACLU withdrew support for ENDA because of its religious exemption. Photo by Jeff Borg.

By Carlene Sawyer

ON JULY 8, the national office of the American Civil Liberties Union announced that it was withdrawing its support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in a statement also signed by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Transgender Law Center. The ACLU objects to a provision in the bill that would allow religiously affiliated employers to continue to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

On July 21, President Obama signed an executive order to ban discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people employed by federal contractors. The ACLU opposed any inclusion of a religious exemption in the executive order, and the President rebuffed requests by religious groups to exempt them.

“Federal legislation to protect LGBT people from workplace discrimination is way beyond overdue, but Congress has no place giving religiously affiliated employers a license to discriminate against LGBT workers,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office. “We can no longer support a bill that treats LGBT discrimination as different and somehow more legitimate than other forms of discrimination.”

The provision in the current version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that allows religious organizations to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity has long been a source of significant concern to the ACLU. Given the types of workplace discrimination increasingly seen against LGBT people, together with the calls for greater permission to discriminate on religious grounds that followed immediately upon the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, it has become clear that the inclusion of this provision is no longer tenable. It would prevent ENDA from providing protections that LGBT people desperately need and would make very bad law with potential further negative effects. Therefore, ACLU National announced withdrawal of support for the current version of ENDA.

Our request is a simple one: Do not give religiously affiliated employers a license to discriminate against LGBT people when they have no such right to discriminate based on race, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information.

The full statement announcing the withdrawal of support can be found at

Carlene Sawyer is a member of the board of directors of the ACLU of Florida Greater Miami Chapter.