Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a sweeping 25-page directive to federal agencies Friday on how to protect religious liberty in employment, contracting and programming as they execute federal laws, an order that is likely to undercut federal protections for LGBT people.
Under the new policy, an attempt to deliver on President Donald Trump’s pledge to his evangelical supporters that he would protect religious liberties, a claim of a violation of religious freedom would be enough to override many anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people, women and others, reports NBC News.
“This is putting the world on notice: You better take these claims seriously,” said Robin Fretwell Wilson, a law professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “This is a signal to the rest of these agencies to rethink the protections they have put in place on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
The 25-page memo outlines 20 guiding principles reminding agencies that freedom of religion is a fundamental right and that the free exercise of religion “includes the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one’s religious beliefs.”
“As President Trump said, ‘Faith is deeply embedded into the history of our country, the spirit of our founding and the soul of our nation … [this administration] will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore,’” Sessions said in a statement.
“The constitutional protection of religious beliefs and the right to exercise those beliefs have served this country well, have made us one of the most tolerant countries in the world, and have also helped make us the freeist and most generous.”
“Except in the narrowest circumstances, no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law,” Sessions wrote. “To the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, religious observance and practice should be reasonably accommodated in all government activity.”
The Hill notes:
Among the principles outlined in the guidance is that certain religious organizations are entitled to hire only people whose beliefs and conduct are “consistent with their employers’ religious precepts.”
It states as an example that a Lutheran school may choose to employ only practicing Lutherans, only practicing Christians or only those who adhere to a code of conduct consistent with the precepts of the Lutheran community sponsoring the school.
It also said religious organizations may be exempt from following certain discrimination laws if doing so would conflict with the organization’s religious principles. This would appear to suggest support for allowing religious organizations to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Sessions, a deeply devout Methodist from Alabama, also sent a memo to the Department of Justice, directing all United States Attorney’s Offices to immediately begin incorporating the guidance in “litigation strategy and arguments, operations, grant administration, and all other aspects of the department’s work.”