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Spring 2018 Civil Rights Update: Faith-Based Initiatives in the White House and Anti-Begging Laws Found to Violate Constitutional Rights


Below we discuss some recent, important developments concerning protected civil rights this spring:

Trump’s Faith-Based Initiative Raises Civil Rights & Discrimination Concerns

On May 3rd, President Donald Trump signed an executive order intended to “protect religious liberty” into law, igniting concerns from civil rights advocates across the country. The order establishes a new office at the White House known as the “Faith and Opportunity Initiative,” which carries with it a mission to “empower faith-based organizations and promote religious freedom.”

However, many are concerned that it is, in reality, a blanket invitation from the administration to engage in discrimination based on sexual preference and gender. The administration has already taken similar steps to “promote religious liberty,” such as creating the “Conscience and Religious Freedom Division” within the Department of Health and Human Services and, subsequently, the Department of Justice’s issuing new guidance prioritizing “religious liberty” in its litigation strategy. Many are concerned that this is yet another step towards discriminatory policy preferences disguised as religious freedom.

Advocacy groups are especially concerned about the new order’s revocation of protections previously granted, which required service providers who obtain government funds to refer beneficiaries to alternative service providers if they refuse to perform certain services for religious reasons (for example, LGBTQ families who have been denied the opportunity to foster children because they were told they did not mirror “the holy family”).

More broadly, many are concerned that it is a blatant invitation for faith-based groups and other religious organizations to apply for public government funding and then discriminate, without any repercussions whatsoever. The initiative will be headed by an adviser who provides a “voice” in the White House for faith-based organizations, and regularly reports to Attorney General Jeff Sessions regarding any concerns of non-compliance with the administration’s previous orders.

The announcement came weeks before the highly-anticipated Supreme Court ruling in the Colorado cakeshop case, which addresses the issue of whether private businesses can decline service to LGBTQ customers for “religious” reasons. The administration explicitly supported the business owner in the case, citing his “right to operate his bakery in accordance with his religious beliefs.” Meanwhile, Christian legal organizations defending business owners like these do not feel that Trump’s most recent executive order goes far enough.

Ultimately, the question does not involve whether or not religious liberty is vital, but whether it is a “license to discriminate” and harm particular communities.

Report Finds That Anti-Begging Laws Violate Civil Rights

On a brighter note, a new study released on May 8th found that anti-panhandling laws violate constitutional rights such as due process and free speech. The report also found that these laws exacerbate homelessness by burdening “violators” with a criminal record and fines they could not possibly pay.

Florida Civil Rights Lawyers Ready To Help

If you live in Florida and have been the victim of discriminatory policies that violate your civil rights, contact the Baez Law Firm to find out how we can help.


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