President Obama has threatened to veto Congress' defense budget bill if language remains that could permit religiously-affiliated government contractors or grantees to discriminate because of religion or sexual orientation. The Russell Amendment, named after Representative Steve Russell (R-Oklahoma) was a late-night addition to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that passed the House without a hearing on the merits by a vote of 277 to 147.

Some supporters of the Russell Amendment claim that it is designed to allow military chaplains to choose which vendors meet their religious standards, but the larger effect is to roll back Obama's 2014 executive order that prohibited federal contractors, including religiously affiliated social services such as adoption agencies, from discriminating against LGBT employees. The Russell Amendment reintroduces the previous religious exemptions.

Federal anti-discrimination legislation has taken a piecemeal approach as there is no blanket federal prohibition on discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.

The text of the Russell Amendment is as follows:

                Any branch or agency of the Federal Government shall, with respect to any religious corporation, religious association, religious educational institution, or religious society that is a recipient of or offeror for a Federal Government contract, subcontract, grant, purchase order, or cooperative agreement, provide protections and exemptions consistent with sections 702(a) and 703(e)(2) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. 2000e-1(a) and 42 11 U.S.C. 2000e-2(e)(2)) and section 103(d) of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 USC 12113(d)).

It is unlikely that the bill, which is currently in negotiations between the House and the Senate will be passed before the November 8 election.

 

Photo by Kevin McCoy, CC BY-SA 2.0

 

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