Jeff Sessions' Love Letter to the Religious Right

Attorney General Jeff SessionsSource PAUL J. RICHARDS  Getty Images

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday issued a 25-page memo that establishes the Trump administration's interpretation of federal law and regulations in an attempt to deliver to religious conservatives the widest possible license to discriminate, especially against the LGBT community.

Sessions issues the guidance as a result of an executive order Trump signed in May empowering the attorney general to issue religious freedom guidance.

Numerous current conflicts in the religious sphere concern civil rights for lesbians, gays and transgender people _ for instance, whether religious organizations can refuse to employ people due to their sexual identification. "But the freedom of religion does not give people the right to impose their beliefs on others, to harm others, or to discriminate".

Because of a new interim final rule announced October 6 by the Trump administration, clients of First Liberty are now exempt from the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate, which forced businesses, ministries, and other non-profit organizations to reject their religious beliefs and moral convictions or violate the law.

"Today the Trump-Pence administration launched an all-out assault on LGBTQ people, women, and other minority communities by unleashing a sweeping license to discriminate", said Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin.

"Our freedom as citizens has always been inextricably linked with our religious freedom as a people".

The memo asserts 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act applies not just to people, but organizations and some for-profit companies.

"Although the application of the relevant protections may differ in different contexts, individuals and organizations do not give up their religious-liberty protections by providing or receiving social services, education or healthcare; by seeking to earn a living; by employing others to do the same; by receiving government grants or contracts; or by otherwise interacting with federal, state or local governments", the guidance explains.

"President Trump is demonstrating his commitment to undoing the anti-faith policies of the previous administration and restoring true religious freedom", said Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. The memorandum further stated the DOJ will take the position in all pending and future matters that Title VII does not protect against discrimination on the basis of gender identity or transgender status. Additionally, (#19) religious employers have the right to hire only individuals who agree with that religious faith, and (#20) the federal government may not require an organization to set aside any of its religious-liberty rights as a condition for getting any grant or benefit.

Sessions' assertion that "every American has a right to believe, worship, and exercise their faith" is, on its face, an innocuous-sounding statement with which anyone who possesses a pocket Constitution would have a tough time disagreeing.

It remains to be seen if legal organizations will file lawsuits over the guidance for compromising the rights of LGBT people and others. As an example, it cites the Supreme Court's limited ruling in Trinity Lutheran Church striking down a state requirement that government funds for playground improvement not go directly to churches. Sessions and the Department of Justice interpret it differently, taking "sex" to be discrimination between men and women. "A license to discriminate goes against our core American values and I fear that the guidance the Justice Department issued today is not created to help agencies comply with the law, but rather to give them greater leeway to condone discrimination against LGBTQ people, women and others". It comes one day after Sessions instructed the Justice Department to no longer interpret the prohibition on sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to apply to cases of transgender discrimination. Unfortunately, to the extent that the guidance defines existing law as permitting discrimination, that is a meaningless assurance.

"Nothing could be more un-American and unholy than using religion to justify harm and discrimination to others".

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