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When the White House announced plans to bar federal contractors from considering sexual orientation or gender identity when hiring, Christian leaders mobilized.

Dozens of leaders at colleges, relief and development organizations, publishing houses (including CT's parent company), and megachurches signed letters urging President Obama to include explicit protections for religious organizations. Without such exemptions, one letter warned, the move—intended to circumvent Congress's long-standing impasse over the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)—"will come at an unreasonable cost to the common good, national unity, and religious freedom." The letters made national news, with signer Gordon College president Michael Lindsay becoming a particular focus for criticism in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.

Obama signed the executive order in late July, and it included no such exemptions. (The U.S. Senate passed an ENDA bill that explicitly exempts religious organizations, but it has languished in the House.)

But Obama's order also didn't directly affect most organizations whose leaders signed the letters.

Many Christian organizations that work with the government—such as World Vision and World Relief—do so not through contracts but through grants, in a process that is much less regulated. Meanwhile, the President left untouched a 2007 Bush administration memo allowing World Vision (and, implicitly, other religious organizations that partner with the government) to hire and fire on the basis of religious belief.

So was the order actually a quiet win for religious groups? Leaders say no. They believe that, even though few ministries contract with the government, ...

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September 2014

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