The candidate who said he’d stop undue federal interference in our everyday lives is now the president who’d like to escalate the scale of government-financed intrusion.

If President Donald Trump moves ahead with an executive order that would allow religion to be used as an excuse to discriminate against women and people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, then the pressure will be on Maine’s congressional delegation to put anti-bias protections into law so that no one person can take them away.

The order, leaked to multiple news organizations including The Washington Post and The Nation, has a telling title: “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom.” In this case, “religious freedom” is equated with exempting federally funded organizations from having to comply with federal reproductive rights and anti-LGBT discrimination safeguards — as long as the groups can cite religious or moral objections.

Groups — or companies — that get government contracts or grants could fire or refuse to hire someone who’s gay or transgender. They could deny health care benefits for birth control. They could ban married same-sex couples from adopting children.

We’ve been here before. Recognizing the threat to LGBT workers, U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., last year proposed an amendment that would have barred federal contractors from discriminating against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. If the proposal had passed, it would have put into law a 2014 executive order issued by then-President Barack Obama.

Pressured by his party’s leadership, 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin was one of seven Republicans who caved* and changed their votes on the amendment at the last minute. Maloney’s proposal failed by one vote, leaving the future of the workplace protections in the hands of the next president. That turned out to be Donald Trump — and he’s delivering for the conservative Christians who flocked to the polls on his behalf, cutting off all U.S. public health aid to foreign organizations that perform or even provide information on abortion, as well as promising to overturn a law that bans political activity by tax-exempt churches.

The “religious freedom” executive order exists only in draft form, and Trump spokesman Sean Spicer emphasized Thursday that the president hasn’t settled on a final policy. But the executive order is very much still in play — and for the sake of those in its crosshairs, Maine’s members of Congress should be prepared to put basic civil rights protections into law.

  • Clarification: Rep. Bruce Poliquin denies that party pressure was a factor in his decision to change his vote on the 2016 federal anti-discrimination amendment.
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