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Kira Shepherd's picture

There has been a great deal of discussion about the draft religious freedom order that was recently leaked. Most of the conversation has centered around how the order would allow for discrimination against LGBTQ folks, and rightly so, the order clearly targets that community. However, the order also outlines broad religious liberty protections that will allow individuals and organizations to discriminate on the basis of pregnancy, familial status, and marital status. Such provisions will disproportionately impact Black women who, according to a recent report by Columbia Law’s Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, are statistically more likely to become pregnant and raise families while unmarried.

The order would permit (if not encourage) ill-treatment against unmarried pregnant people and parents and allow religious objectors to engage in a wide range of harmful acts, including denial of employment, housing, public benefits, and access to social services, in violation of existing federal law. If the draft order becomes law it will quite clearly harm the interests of the growing number of families that do not fit the traditional model of a married, different-sex couple. However people of color, especially Blacks, would particularly suffer their effects according to Columbia Law’s report entitled “Unmarried and Unprotected: How Religious Liberty Bills Harm Pregnant People, Families and Communities of Color”.  This is because among all racial groups, Blacks are the least likely to marry and have the highest rate of children born outside of marriage. Just over 70% of Black children are born to parents who are not married, followed by 67% percent of Native American children, and 53% percent of Hispanic children, compared with 29% of white children.

It is important to note that women of color already face disproportionate rates of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. A study by the National Partnership for Women & Families showed that from 1996-2005, the number of pregnancy discrimination complaints increased at a faster rate than the influx of women into the workplace. The study showed that this sharp increase was largely caused by pregnancy discrimination cases filed by workers of color. During this time, the number of pregnancy discrimination claims filed by workers of color increased by 76%, while pregnancy claims overall increased only 25%.

While the White House says that the leaked draft is one of “hundreds” of possible drafted orders, the language in the draft shows the direction the Trump administration is taking in regards to religious liberty and sexual freedom.  During the 2015-2016 legislative session, dozens of bills were introduced at the state and federal levels that would have created exemptions to otherwise generally applicable laws, including antidiscrimination protections, for persons whose sincerely held religious beliefs conflict with those laws. Many of these bills conferred special protection for the religiously-motivated belief that sexual relations should only take place between married heterosexual persons. Fortunately, many of these bills were struck down over the last two years. However, it appears as if this trend will change under the Trump administration and a Republican-led Congress. The new regime appears ready to leverage religion to push forward discriminatory laws that impose extreme financial, dignitary and emotional harm on pregnant women, single parents and their communities.


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