President Obama's recess appointment of an outspoken supporter of gay rights to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is causing alarm among social conservatives, who worry that she'll strip religious rights from schools and businesses and "revolutionize" social norms in the workplace.
The appointment of Georgetown University Law Center Professor Chai Feldblum to be one of the EEOC's five commissioners went largely unnoticed on Saturday, as Republicans zeroed in on Obama's naming of pro-union labor lawyer Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board.
But Feldblum has garnered harsh criticism from conservative religious organizations, who are disturbed by her work to promote gay, lesbian, and transgender rights, including past comments in which she said "gay sex is morally good."
"She is way beyond what most Americans would consider mainstream," Shari Rendall, director of Legislation and Public Policy at Concerned Women for America, said in a statement.
A host of conservative groups say Feldblum, who was nominated in September, will use her powerful post to enforce the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit private employers with more than 15 employees from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The legislation clearly states that the act does not apply to corporations, associations or educational institutions with religious affiliations. But Feldblum's critics worry that other employers could be forced to make decisions that conflict with their religious or moral beliefs.
While Feldblum's work to end prejudice against gays and lesbians has been lauded by many in the legal community, conservative groups say her appointment to the EEOC will have detrimental and far-reaching consequences.
"She wants to change the moral bearing of this country," said Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition. Lafferty said the hiring of a transgender teacher in a school, for example, would be "traumatizing" for students who are "still growing and learning about sexuality."
"We send children to school to learn reading, writing and arithmetic. Having a transgender or 'she-male' teacher in the classroom should not be part of that equation," she said.
Feldblum's public comments and causes have raised alarm among social conservatives. In a 2004 speech at UCLA, she said "gay sex is morally good" and boasted about a project she launched, known as Workplace Flexibility 2010, which she said aimed to "change the face of the American workplace" and "revolutionize social norms."
The Obama administration is standing by its decision to appoint the Harvard-educated attorney to the EEOC, an independent federal agency that enforces laws against workplace discrimination.
In a posting on the White House Web site, the administration listed Feldblum's formidable credentials, including her work as legislative counsel to the AIDS Project of the American Civil Liberties Union and her help in drafting the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
Obama made 15 recess appointments on Saturday, including Becker and Feldblum. White House deputy communications director Jen Psaki wrote, "Many of these fifteen individuals have enjoyed broad bipartisan support, but have found their confirmation votes delayed for reasons that have nothing to do with their qualifications. It has more to do with an obstruction-at-all-costs mentality that we’ve been faced with since the President came into office."
In an interview with FoxNews.com on Wednesday, Winnie Stachelberg, senior vice president for external affairs at the Center of American Progress, said claims that Feldblum will promote an agenda that seeks to discriminate against religious businesses and schools are unfounded.
"She understands better than most the need for religious liberty and free speech and protections of civil rights," said Stachelberg. "The work that she has done to tackle thorny issues between business and labor and civil rights groups puts her in a uniquely qualified spot to serve on the EEOC. She has the support of Republicans and Democrats, religious conservatives and religious liberals and a lot of people in between."
Also supporting Feldblum's appointment to the EEOC is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which lauded her credentials in a Dec. 9, 2009, letter to Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., who serve on the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
Randy Johnson, the chamber’s senior vice president of labor, immigration, and employee benefits, wrote that Feldblum and fellow nominee Victoria A. Lipnic are "tremendously bright and capable professionals who will bring a wealth of diverse experience to the EEOC."
"While it is true that the chamber will not always agree with either Ms. Lipnic or Ms. Feldblum on every issue," wrote Johnson, "we have no doubt that each will be open to hear and consider the concerns of the business community and all interested stakeholders in matters under the EEOC’s jurisdiction."