Locals express concern over Speech and Religious Liberty executive order

HARLINGEN — People expressed a broad range of emotions in response to an executive order many call a license to discriminate.

President Donald Trump signed the Free Speech and Religious Liberty executive order this past week.

Critics say the language in the order is so vague it’s up for translation.

Trump gave an explanation while signing the order in the Rose Garden at the White House.

“Faith is deeply embedded in the history of our country … No American should be forced to choose between the dictates of the American government and the tenets of their faith.”

The original document apparently contained provisions which many felt endangered the rights of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender community. Individuals and organizations expressed concerns about those provisions.

Many of those provisions were removed from the final document before Trump signed it.

Individuals and organizations immediately spoke on both sides of the executive order, which contains few specifics.

“The unprecedented action is a thinly-veiled attempt to promote discrimination,” Equality Texas’ Chief Executive Officer Chuck Smith said in a statement.

“LGBTQ Texans and people of faith know the president’s executive order is misusing religious freedom to promote discrimination,” he said. “Trump’s vague words of support for the LGBTQ community during his campaign and after his inauguration have proven to be empty platitudes.”

LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer.

Smith said in the statement the new order could interfere with same-sex spouses visiting their loved ones in the hospital.

It could allow emergency shelters to turn away people for their sexual orientation or gender status, he said.

Critics say officials could refuse to process paperwork for one member of a same-sex marriage if they disagree with those marriages on religious grounds.

These concerns are not in the final wording of the document, although references to such consequences may have been present in earlier drafts. The issues, therefore, are still very present according to the organizations.

The Rev. Bill Reagan, executive director of Loaves and Fishes of the Rio Grande Valley, had concerns about mandating religious views.

“In terms of the teachings of the Christian faith, I think it’s pretty clear that marriage is between one man and one woman,” he said. “I would hope that the laws of our society would reflect that.”

However, he had a different take on forcing religion through government.

“I also believe it’s just as important that the church can’t force government to enact laws for the purpose of promoting one particular religion,” he said. “I myself can’t see same-sex marriage as unconstitutional.”

In other words, these are matters for religious institutions.

Betty Jones wistfully reflected on her wedding day two years ago when she and her wife Siria, plus two other same-sex couples, were married at Mount Calvary Christian Church. It was a festive and sunny day, full of optimism — and caution.

That caution would seem well-served with the possible implications of the executive order.

She expressed the concern of many that same-sex couples would not be allowed to adopt children or serve as foster parents.

However, there is no such language in the order regarding those issues.

“It’s a great disservice and possibly a violation of human rights to deny children the opportunity to live in a safe and loving home,” she said. “There are too many children being raised in group homes that would otherwise be placed in LGBTQIA homes.”

In some references, the LGBTQ community also includes intersex and asexual.

Jones further noted the poor message the order may send to children.

“It demonstrates to our youth that your rights are voided if you’re LGBTQIA,” she said. “Love is love and my community wants nothing more than to allow abandoned, abused, and neglected children the same rights as others.”

These also are matters revealed in some of the religious refusal bills currently under consideration in the state Legislature.

Equality battle continues


Staff Writer

HARLINGEN — Some passages in the executive order still concern equality organizations.

In its statement, Equality Texas expressed concern about the use of religious views in practical matters as reflected in the order.

“Today’s executive order could require expansive religious exemptions that would allow federal dollars to fund shelters that adopt formal policies refusing to recognize marriages of same-sex couples or the gender identity of transgender people.”

While concerns may have been raised by many in response to the previous wording of the order, Equality Texas said its statement was based on the final document.

“The statement that was released today was in response to the policy that was signed today,” said DeAnne Cuellar, Communications Coordinator for Equality Texas.

She added that Texas is in a difficult situation now with the state legislature currently in session.

There are 17 religious refusal bills which would allow individuals to deny service to others based on their own religious or moral views.

What Equality Texas says about the executive order

• HHS could be ordered to amend the 2011 Hospital Visitation regulations ensuring that same-sex spouses and designated partners have access to their loved ones if they are hospitalized.

• HUD could be required to amend the 2011 Equal Access Rule, which ensures that everyone seeking HUD-funded housing including emergency shelters and public housing are served fairly regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

• In the federal workplace, anti-LGBTQ speech and actions may be accommodated without fear of reprisal.

• The Social Security Administration could adopt a policy allowing workers to refuse to process spousal or survivor benefits paperwork for a surviving same-sex spouse.

• Employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs could refuse to process paperwork for a surviving same-sex spouse and their family also citing religious objections to same-sex marriage.

• Internal Human Resource officers at federal agencies could also be allowed to refuse to process a federal worker’s application for spousal health insurance coverage for a same-sex spouse.

• Federal workers would also be allowed to refuse to use gender appropriate pronouns and names of transgender co-workers without fear of reprisal.

• The State Department could be required to include religious exemptions for private businesses contracting with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to provide services including healthcare, nutrition support, and education.