Obama's LGBT order re-ignites religious liberty debate

ExploreMore popular and trending stories

On Monday, President Barack Obama signed an executive order that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating based on gender identity or sexual orientation. The White House touted the order as a step toward equality. (Via The White House)

But Obama ignored pleas to include a religious exemption for faith-based groups in his order, re-igniting the gay rights versus religious freedom debate once again. (Via Getty Images)

News that Obama was working on just such an executive order broke last month and it had a great deal of support — provided it had language giving religious groups a pass.

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch said he would support such an order as long as the exemption was included. (Via Getty Images)

The Salt Lake Tribune quotes Hatch saying: "In seeking to curtail unjust discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, we must ensure that legal protections do not trample upon basic religious liberties."

So why did that language not make it into the order? There are a couple of theories on that.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State said it boils down to how taxpayer money is spent. "Faith-based groups that tap the public purse should play by the same rules as everyone else and not expect special treatment."

But conservative columnist Todd Starnes, writing in Fox News, says the whole point of the order is to bully religious groups. "This administration believes gay rights trump everyone else's rights — including religious rights." 

The debate comes just weeks after the Supreme Court's ruling in the Hobby Lobby contraception case, which pushed the religious freedom argument to the forefront. (Via WTTG)

But while the right accuses the president of bullying and curtailing religious freedom, some on the left argue the order doesn't go far enough.

The president of Interfaith Alliance criticized Obama for choosing not to "undo the provisions that President George W. Bush signed allowing for religious organizations to discriminate against people of other religions in their hiring."

A former faith adviser to Obama says he's grateful the president kept that Bush policy. Though he also tells The Washington Post the executive order on LGBT discrimination leaves room for interpretation and will lead to litigation.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia already have laws that protect LGBT workers from discrimination but this order provides that security to the entire nation, but only for federal workers.