NPR’s Morning Edition hosted an attorney from the anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) to discuss the executive order that President Donald Trump signed today weakening the tax code restrictions on religious organizations’ political activity and promoting “religious liberty.” NPR failed, yet again, to note ADF’s anti-LGBTQ extremism and that Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has recently designated it as a hate group.
On the May 4 edition of NPR’s Morning Edition, host Steve Inskeep interviewed NPR’s Tom Gjelten and ADF senior counsel Greg Baylor about the executive order that Trump signed later that day. The executive order, according to a senior White House Official, aims to weaken the tax code restrictions on religious organizations’ political activity. These restrictions -- known as the “Johnson Amendment” -- were intended to “prevent donors from deducting political contributions from their federal income tax” and have been a long-standing target of far-right religious extremists and anti-LGBTQ hate groups. Since 2008, ADF has led an annual “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” as part of its efforts to repeal the Johnson Amendment and has been the driving force behind many of the “religious freedom” bills proposed in state legislatures.
Inskeep described ADF as an organization that “advocates for religious freedom on religious freedom issues” -- failing to note ADF’s long-standing history of extremism and misinformation. Inskeep also failed to mention that ADF was designated as a hate group by SPLC for working to criminalize LGBTQ people, both in the U.S. and abroad. NPR has repeatedly hosted anti-LGBTQ extremists without providing much-needed context for its listeners; after hosting a hate group leader in 2015, NPR’s Diane Rehm even acknowledged that the network needs to “do a better job of being more careful about identification.” NPR has faced routine criticism for its coverage of LGBTQ issues.
During the segment, Baylor mischaracterized regulations in the Affordable Care Act as an “abortion pill mandate” and failed to note that existing religious freedom protection allow organizations to opt out of providing coverage if they notify the government. The plaintiffs in the lawsuits mentioned by Baylor argue that the even process of opting out of providing insurance coverage for forms of contraception that they falsely deem “abortifacients” poses a “substantial burden” to their religious beliefs. Baylor also lamented that the executive order didn’t go far enough to protect people who object “on religious or moral grounds from violating their convictions through the content of their health care plan.” Inskeep did not clarify that this type of order would codify broad-based discrimination in health care for any number of reasons, including sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or even interracial relationships.
STEVE INSKEEP (HOST): Let's bring another voice into the conversation because Greg Baylor is with us also. He's a senior counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom, which advocates for religious freedom on religious freedom issues. Thanks for coming by. Good morning.
GREGORY BAYLOR: It's great to be here.
INSKEEP: And for wearing a tie early in the morning, really appreciate that, really great. Was this executive order what you wanted?
BAYLOR: I would say that, you know, the two words that come to mind in seeing the outline of this upcoming executive order are disappointment and hope. There's disappointment because it's not all that we hoped that it would be. But we do have hope that this perhaps is just the first step in the Trump administration's effort to fulfill its campaign promise that he made on the campaign trail that he would fully protect religious freedom, that he would protect people like the Little Sisters, that he would stop his administration being something that really interferes significantly with the religious freedom of people.
INSKEEP: Let’s ask you about both parts of that. First, you said disappointed. It doesn’t do very much. What is limiting about this executive order so far as we know, granted, we don’t have the text yet?
BAYLOR: Yeah, we don’t have the text yet, but with regards to the HHS abortion pill mandate, all that it says is that it's going to provide regulatory relief. That is disappointingly vague especially given how long we’ve had to discuss this issue. These lawsuits were filed, some of them back in 2012, many of them in 2013 and ‘14. And the answer to this problem has been quite obvious all along. What this administration needs to do is to craft an exemption that prohibits everyone who objects on religious and moral grounds from violating their convictions through the content of their health plan. This is the obvious answer and it’s not done in this executive order.
INSKEEP: Let’s just remember what this debate is about. We’re talking about women’s contraception here. We’re talking about private employers who are providing insurance. They’re required to have essential benefits as part of the insurance, and some people objected to providing contraception, and they want this exemption. That’s what you’re discussing here, right?
BAYLOR: Although there’s one important distinction to point out. Many of the objectors did not object to contraceptives. Generally, they objected only to the ones that cause abortion. All of my Protestant clients object only to abortion. This is something that had never been mandated. It wasn’t required to be mandated in the Affordable Care Act and when the Obama administration implemented this, they tipped their hat to religious freedom by crafting an extraordinarily narrow religious exemption that only protected a few. And essentially the case that we’ve been making all along is don’t differentiate in the field of religious liberty. You should protect the normal class of religious organizations that are protected in other contexts.
Inskeep concluded the interview with a chuckle, while saying, “And I imagine we can expect plenty of people on the other side of the debate from Mr. Baylor to weigh in as the day goes on.”