President Donald Trump declared January 16 "Religious Freedom Day." Presidents make this proclamation every year, but Trump's "religious freedom" says businesses should have the right to discriminate by letting them refuse to serve LGBT people based solely on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
"No American — whether a nun, nurse, baker, or business owner — should be forced to choose between the tenets of faith or adherence to the law," Trump says in his proclamation.
That pointedly specific statement alone sounds off alarm bells for the LGBT community. In December the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Jack Phillips, a baker in Colorado who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple's wedding. In 2012 Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, turned away David Mullins and Charlie Craig, who were to be married in Massachusetts and wanted to have a reception in Colorado. A ruling in the case is expected later this year.
Title 15 of the U.S. Code states: "It shall be unlawful for any person engaged in commerce, in the course of such commerce, either directly or indirectly, to discriminate in price between different purchasers of commodities of like grade and quality." It also prohibits "discrimination in price or services or facilities furnished."
But Trump has already shown where he stands when it comes to businesses discriminating under the guise of "religious freedom." In May he signed the "Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty" executive order. An early leaked draft of the memo was set to legalize discrimination based on religious beliefs "without suffering adverse treatment from the Federal Government." The final version was not as strong and does not provide many specifics but calls on the executive branch of the government to "vigorously enforce Federal law's robust protections for religious freedom."
In his newest proclamation Trump references this executive order and gives more context to "religious freedom" as a license to discriminate:
Unfortunately, not all have recognized the importance of religious freedom, whether by threatening tax consequences for particular forms of religious speech, or forcing people to comply with laws that violate their core religious beliefs without sufficient justification. These incursions, little by little, can destroy the fundamental freedom underlying our democracy. Therefore, soon after taking office, I addressed these issues in an Executive Order that helps ensure Americans are able to follow their consciences without undue Government interference and the Department of Justice has issued guidance to Federal agencies regarding their compliance with laws that protect religious freedom.
His proclamation also stands in stark contrast with that of his predecessor, Barack Obama, during his last year in office. Obama called for acceptance of all religions and noted that it is "unacceptable" that one-fifth of hate crime victims in 2015 were targeted due to their faith.
"Part of being American means guarding against bigotry and speaking out on behalf of others, no matter their background or belief — whether they are wearing a hijab or a baseball cap, a yarmulke or a cowboy hat," Obama said.
The Business Case Against Discrimination
Trump's religious crusade not only harms the LGBT community and its allies but is also bad for business.
In 2015 Vice President Mike Pence, who was then serving as governor of Indiana, signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. CEOs from some of the state's largest employers, including Eli Lilly and Co. (No. 16 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list), Anthem (No. 20) and Cummins (No. 21), wrote Pence a letter urging him to "make it clear that Indiana is the welcoming state we all believe it to be." The leaders were concerned that if Indiana was not perceived as inclusive, potential recruits would not want to work there.
And in terms of the economy, liberal "blue" states tend to fare better than conservative "red" ones. When broken down by state, the top 10 for per capita Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are mainly blue states:
Per capita Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the United States in 2016, by state (in chained 2009 U.S. dollars)*
- New York
- North Dakota
- New Jersey
*Not including the District of Columbia. Statista notes: "Although not a state, Washington D.C. had the highest overall per capita real GDP at 160,472 U.S. dollars."
Only three states on the list are red: Alaska, North Dakota and Wyoming. And all three states are big players in the oil industry.
According to the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, "More than one-third of Alaska's jobs are tied to the oil and gas industry."
A 2015 Business Insider ranking of "The economies of all 50 US states and DC from worst to best" ranked Alaska in the bottom-half, but North Dakota and Wyoming were Nos. 1 and 13, respectively, largely thanks to oil.
Regarding Wyoming, BI noted, "Oil and coal mining are a big part of Wyoming's economy. About 6,500 citizens of the state work in coal mining, 4,600 in oil and gas drilling, 4,000 in oil- and gas-pipeline construction, and 14,000 in mining-support activities. … However, Wyoming was one of just two states to have fewer people working in the state in June 2015 than in June 2014, with the number of nonfarm payroll jobs in the state dropping by 0.7%."
And as far as North Dakota's No. 1 spot? "The state's economy has seen a major boon from the rise of oil fracking in the last few years."