President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order on religious liberty as early as Thursday, pushing out new policy that is likely to draw a stiff rebuke from the LGBT community.
A senior administration official confirmed the plan to CNN and said it is “definitely possible” the White House could roll out the order Thursday to coincide with the National Day of Prayer, but cautioned that the timing of executive orders out of the Trump White House can often change.
The official declined to describe the details of the executive order. But a draft of the order that had previously leaked to The Nation would have provided sweeping legal protections for people to claim religious exemptions, provisions that civil liberties groups claimed would allow for discrimination against LGBT Americans.
“The ACLU fights every day to defend religious freedom, but religious freedom does not mean the right to discriminate against or harm others,” said Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “If President Trump signs an executive order that attempts to provide a license to discriminate against women or LGBT people, we will see him in court.”
The signing of the executive order is a key victory for Vice President Mike Pence, who has advocated for the signing of a religious liberty executive order inside the White House.
Pence, a staunch social conservative, has a long history of pushing for religious liberty policies that have been assailed by civil liberties groups and praised by conservative and evangelical leaders.
Pence’s advocacy for these types of religious liberty policies also triggered the most controversial period of Pence’s time as governor of Indiana that ultimately drew political fire his way from both the right and left.
Pence signed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 2015 that drew widespread criticism from civil liberties groups and businesses in the state that believed the order could be used to discriminate against gay Americans on the basis of religion.
Amid the firestorm of criticism, Pence backpedaled and signed an amendment to the bill into law aimed at preventing anyone from using the law to discriminate against LGBT individuals — earning Pence a fresh wave of criticism from social conservative warriors who argued Pence had waffled on principle.
The turbulent period bruised Pence as governor of Indiana, but ultimately did not kill his social conservative credentials. Trump’s pick of Pence as his running mate was greeted with a sigh of relief from many conservatives who feared Trump was not sufficiently tied to the conservative ideology.
While it’s unclear what exactly Trump’s religious liberty executive order will accomplish, it is likely to be the latest blow Trump has delivered to LGBT rights groups, which gained substantial victories under former President Barack Obama.
Trump made arguably the most direct appeal to LGBT Americans of any Republican nominee during the presidential campaign, promising he was a “real friend” to the LGBT community and vowing to protect the demographic as president.
Rather than boosting LGBT protections, the Trump administration has repealed some.
The Trump administration in February revoked guidelines directing public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice.