Donald Trump signs ‘religious liberty’ executive order sparking fears over LGBT discrimination

President Donald Trump has signed an executive order launching a new faith-based initiative aimed at strengthening the influence of religious groups in government.

The order, signed in the White House Rose Garden on the National Day of Prayer on Thursday, is entitled Establishment of a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative.

The initiative is aimed at ensuring “the faith-based and community organisations that form the bedrock of our society have strong advocates in the White House and throughout the Federal Government,” according to a press release.

The move has sparked concern among LGBT rights groups, who say the order could open the doors for discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The order will “help ensure that faith-based organisations have equal access to government funding and equal right to exercise their deeply-held beliefs,” Trump said at the ceremony.

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: (AFP OUT) U.S. President Donald Trump attends a presser with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the Oval Office of the White House on April 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. President Trump will hold talks and a working lunch with Chancellor Merkel and participate in a joint news conference with her afterwards. (Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images)

(Chris Kleponis/Getty)

Human rights advocates say this may allow religious groups to swerve anti-discrimination law and continue to hold government contracts even if they show bias against LGBT+ people.

Lambda Legal, the US civil rights organisation which focuses on LGBT+ issues, posted on Twitter: “Freedom of religion is absolutely a core value of our nation.

“What we’re concerned about is the weaponisation of that right. Weaponisation that allows for and encourages discrimination and harm.

“Religious freedom is NOT freedom to discriminate. #LGBTQ.”

Daniel Mach, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Programme on Freedom of Religion and Belief, said in a statement: “Freedom of religion is one of our most fundamental and cherished rights.

“But that freedom does not give any of us the right to harm other people, to impose our beliefs on others, or to discriminate.

“The ACLU will be watching this initiative closely to ensure that it does not promote policies that violate these core principles.

“Many in the US, including people of faith, don’t want to give taxpayer-funded agencies or businesses open to the public a license to discriminate.”

A survey published this week by the Public Religion Research Institute highlighted six in 10 of Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to “freedom to discriminate” laws, which allow small business owners the right to refuse service to gay and lesbian people.

The research also found the majority of religious groups in the US now support same-sex marriage.

The new order will allow the administration to make policy recommendations affecting faith-based and community organisations and will “reduce the burdens on the exercise of free religion”.

The White House added those working on the initiative will inform the administration of “any failures of the executive branch to comply with religious liberty protections under law.”

It will be led by an official appointed to a newly-created position – the Advisor to the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative – and will be “supported by experts and various community and faith leaders from outside of the Federal Government.”