Jeff Sessions Issues Sweeping Religious Freedom Guidance to All Federal Agencies

Posted October 08, 2017

Purporting to interpret religious-liberty protections in federal law, the guidance - a 25-page memo sent to all executive branch departments - doubles down on a distorted understanding of religious freedom.

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

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".

The Department of Justice today issued a guidance document on religious freedom that actually creates a broad license to discriminate against LGBT people, single mothers, and others.

But the impact of the new stance became clear Friday when the administration said it would allow more employers to cite religious objections to opt out of providing no-cost birth control to women uncovered by company health care plans.

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"Religious freedom is a fundamental right, but the attorney general's directive is nothing but a license for businesses to discriminate". Sessions' memo said the IRS should not target a religious organization in circumstances in which it would also not target a secular one. Enacted in 1993, RFRA is one of the primary legislative pillars upon which religious freedom arguments have rested in the last two decades.

I don't want to dismiss the possibility of that happening, but it's important to note that religious freedom laws like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act do not just give blanket permission for people to violate the law by wrapping themselves in some holy scripture.

Finally, the document released by Sessions said that religious organizations must have equal footing in applying for federal aid or grant programs - they may not be denied participation in these programs when the money is going toward activities that are not explicitly religious in nature.

The administration first announced on Friday an expansion of religious and moral exemptions to the HHS contraceptive mandate, over which many non-profit groups and some for-profit businesses had sued the federal government. If federal agencies develop policies that permit discrimination, Taylor says that Lambda Legal and other groups will file lawsuit challenging those changes.

"All Americans should have the freedom to peacefully live and work consistent with their faith without fear of government punishment", said Michael Farris, the president of the Alliance Defending Freedom.

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"The government may be able to meet that [legal] standard with respect to race discrimination. but may not be able to with respect to other forms of discrimination", Sessions' memo says. It also says the government can not enforce the so-called Johnson Amendment, which threatens to strip tax-exempt status from religious groups that engaged in political advocacy.

Carey added, "Don't be fooled; this guidance isn't meant to protect people of faith".

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the administration's announcements Friday as clearly in line with Supreme Court precedent.

The guidance is significant and establishes solid protections for religious freedom at the federal level, Professor Robert Destro of the Catholic University of America's Columbus School of Law told CNA.

Rebecca Isaacs, Executive Director of the Equality Federation, said the latest memo was a "an attack on the values of freedom and fairness that make this nation great". 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.

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To put it simply: Religion is being used as an excuse for discrimination. In a move about as #onbrand as his penchant for racism, Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III rolled that shit right the fuck back to the time when men were men, women were women, and Sessions refused to believe the LGBTQ community was discriminated against.