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"I thought it was important for the letter to be from people who support the president," Wear said. "So often, when you're dealing with an issue like this, it's only political enemies of the president on one side and die-hard political supporters on the other when really this issue involves some principles that run a bit deeper than partisan politics."

One signatory of Wear's letter, D. Michael Lindsay, came under fire in early July for joining the Wear-organized request. Gordon College, a Massachusetts school and member of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, lost a contract with the city of Salem and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges announced it would review the school's accreditation at its meeting this fall.

"To have a signer be pilloried and his organization's accreditation called into question because of signing a letter like this says how volatile this issue has become," said Carlson-Thies, who coordinated a separate letter asking for exemptions.

Carlson-Thies' letter included specific exemption language the signatories recommended Obama use in the executive order.

Carlson-Thies and other signatories have sent similar letters to the White House for several years and wanted to make their request public again in light of the pending executive order, he said.

While lobbying underlines the significance of Obama's language choice, the order's inclusion or exclusion of a religious exemption is not a definite predictor of things to come, said Eugene Volokh, a religious freedom law professor at UCLA.

"These kinds of rules tend to lead to other things because they change people's attitudes and create infrastructure," he said. "But none of this is inevitable. There are some slippery slopes down which things have slipped and other slippery slopes down which things haven't slipped."

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