BN-DT107_edp071_G_20140717180127When D. Michael Lindsey, the president of a well-known Christian college in Wenham, Mass., called Gordon College, signed a letter to President Barack Obama with 13 other religious leaders on July 1, he can’t have known what he was getting into.

The letter urged the president to exempt religious groups from an executive order that will bar the government from contracting with organizations that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. A week earlier, numerous other religious leaders—including many college presidents—had sent a similar letter.

But that was before the Supreme Court’s sharply divided Hobby Lobby decision holding that the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate violated the religious-freedom rights of several for-profit corporations. Now it seems Gordon College has stirred up another big religious-freedom controversy.

The Obama administration announced its intention to issue the nondiscrimination order several weeks before the Hobby L obby decision, after the House failed to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination in all employment contexts.

But the administration was waiting to see how the court would rule in Hobby Lobby. Though the decision did not involve sexual orientation, and for-profit corporations are not the focus of the executive order, Hobby Lobby might provide clues about the scope of religious freedom. But the Hobby Lobbymajority carefully sidestepped the issue, emphasizing that the ruling applied only to a few forms of contraception at issue in the case.

Despite its silence on sexual orientation, Hobby Lobb y‘s vindication of religious-freedom rights emboldened the leaders to send their letter. “We must find a way,” they wrote, “to respect diversity of opinion on [sexual orientation and gender identify issues] in a way that respects the dignity of all parties to the best of our ability.” Continue reading