Sessions Issues Blatant 'License to Discriminate' With 'Religious Freedom' Memo

Oct 08, 2017, 00:45
Sessions Issues Blatant 'License to Discriminate' With 'Religious Freedom' Memo

The memos were issued in response to an executive order signed by President Trump in May, declaring, "It shall be the policy of the executive branch to vigorously enforce federal law's robust protections for religious freedom" and instructing the attorney general to "issue guidance interpreting religious-liberty protections in federal law".

The guidance, an attempt to deliver on President Donald Trump's pledge to his evangelical and other religious supporters, effectively lifts a burden from religious objectors to prove that their beliefs about marriage or other topics are sincerely held.

The guidance says the government can not unduly burden people or certain businesses from practicing their faith, noting, "The free exercise of religion includes the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one's religious beliefs".

"Freedom of religion is paramount to our nation's success, but does not give people the right to impose their beliefs on others, to harm others, or to discriminate". Many conservative Christian schools and faith-based agencies require employees to adhere to moral codes that ban sex outside marriage and same-sex relationships, among other behavior.

It's actually not terribly clear, though, that this memo makes much of a difference in how the current Justice Department will tackle LGBT discrimination issues because of how it is already tackling LGBT issues.

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All eyes were on the Department of Health and Human Services on Friday, as the Trump administration announced a major broadening of exemptions to the federal contraception mandate, prompting cheers from religious freedom proponents nationwide.

"Our country has a long history of protecting religious liberty", General Counsel for First Liberty Hiram Sasser said in a written statement.

The Department of Justice today issued religious-liberty guidelines for all federal agencies, and anyone who values equality for all and the separation of church and state should be deeply disturbed by the message the guidelines send.

The guidance later says that the government can not "second-guess" whether a person's religious belief is reasonable and instructs that the scrutiny given to government regulations on the exercise of religion must be "exceptionally demanding". Further, our nation has a longstanding bi-partisan commitment to religious liberty as evidenced by Senator Ted Kennedy's passionate advocacy for the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). A nonprofit group with a federal contract could refuse to provide services to LGBT people, even in emergencies, and would not be in danger of losing its contract.

Elsewhere, the memo asserts that religious groups "generally may not be required to alter their religious character to participate in a government program".

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It remains to be seen if legal organizations will file lawsuits over the guidance for compromising the rights of LGBT people and others. As it turns out, this sweeping declaration is not some banal, symbolic, academic labor of love, but is instead a carefully-constructed justification for the administration's decision to extend legal protections to sex discrimination. Federal law says that is permitted, the memo says.

"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 SPLC said ADF "works to develop "religious liberty" legislation and case law that will allow the denial of good and services to LGBT people on the basis of relgion" and "has supported the recminalization of homosexuality in the US and criminalization overseas".

For example, Louise Melling, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that the guidance could allow a religious employer to fire an employee who had a child out of wedlock or fire an employee who married a same-sex partner. So courts have ruled this way. "Nothing could be more un-American and unholy that using religion to justify harm and discrimination to others".

The Justice Department says the law as written does not apply to transgender people, but it would be up to Congress to make any changes to it.

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