BY LOU CHIBBARO JR., WASHINGTON BLADE
After conducting a careful review of the “religious freedom” executive order that President Donald Trump signed on Thursday the ACLU says it has decided not to file an immediate lawsuit to challenge the order. In an earlier announcement, ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said the ACLU planned to file a lawsuit on the day Trump issued the order on May 4.
“Today’s executive order signing was an elaborate photo-op with no discernible policy outcome,” Romero said in his follow-up statement. “After careful review of the order’s text we have determined that the order does not meaningfully alter the ability of religious institutions or individuals to intervene in the political process,” he said.
“The directive to federal agencies to explore religious-based exceptions to healthcare does cue up a potential for future battle,” Romero added, “but as of now, the status quo has not changed.”
He was referring to a provision in the order that directs U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a longtime opponent of LGBT rights, to weigh in on interpreting the order’s impact on federal agencies. This provision in the order has alarmed LGBT advocacy organizations.
“In order to guide all agencies in complying with relevant Federal law, the Attorney General shall, as appropriate, issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in federal law,” the provision in the executive order states.
The Human Rights Campaign issued a legal analysis of the order made by its legal director, Sarah Warbelow, which says the provision in the order to be carried out by Sessions could undermine non-discrimination protections for LGBT people put in place under the Obama administration in numerous federal agencies. Warbelow couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
ACLU spokesperson Stephen Smith said Romero’s statement saying the Trump executive order would have no immediate impact on government policy wasn’t meant to contradict concerns raised by HRC and others. “We are not in disagreement with anyone,” he said. “There is resounding consensus that this order encourages agencies to cue up to potentially harmful things, but this order doesn’t create harmful policies in and of itself, which is why we did not file suit yesterday,” Smith told the Blade.
“And as our statement clearly states, we are keeping a close eye on what the future brings here,” he said. He was referring to Romero’s concluding comment in his updated statement, which says, “The ACLU stands ready to sue the Trump administration, and in the event that this order triggers any official government action at all, we will see Trump in court, again.”