Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Monday that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is creating a “Religious Liberty Task Force” to help the department fully implement the religious liberty guidance it issued last year outlining a broad interpretation of religious freedom protections.
Sessions’ task force will aim to ensure the DOJ is upholding the executive order President Trump issued in May 2017 directing federal agencies to respect and protect religious liberty and political speech
Sessions said the task force will “ensure all Justice Department components are upholding that guidance in the cases they bring and defend, the arguments they make in court, the policies and regulations they adopt, and how we conduct our operations.”
Sessions claimed on Monday that the cultural climate in this country has become more hostile towards people of faith in recent years.
“We’ve seen nuns ordered to buy contraceptives. We’ve seen U.S. senators ask judicial and executive branch nominees about dogma—even though the Constitution explicitly forbids a religious test for public office. We’ve all seen the ordeal faced so bravely by Jack Phillips,” he said, referring to the Colorado baker who took his case to the Supreme Court after he was found to have violated the state’s anti-discrimination laws for refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
“In short, we have not only the freedom to worship—but the right to exercise our faith. The Constitution’s protections don’t end at the parish parking lot nor can our freedoms be confined to our basements,” he said, according to his prepared remarks.
“Religious Americans are no longer an afterthought,” Sessions said.
NEW: Attorney General Jeff Sessions announces “Religious Liberty Task Force.”
Sessions says the task force will “help the Department fully implement our religious liberty guidance,” including “making sure our employees know their duties to accommodate people of faith.” pic.twitter.com/R6s2CYmdue
— ABC News (@ABC) July 30, 2018
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) responded to the announcement on Twitter with a reminder for the Justice Department: “Reminder: Religious freedom protects our right to our beliefs, not a right to harm others. The Department of Justice has no business licensing discrimination against LGBT people, women, and religious minorities.”
Reminder: Religious freedom protects our right to our beliefs, not a right to harm others.
The Department of Justice has no business licensing discrimination against LGBT people, women, and religious minorities. https://t.co/KXtjusL2F7
— ACLU (@ACLU) July 30, 2018
LGBTQ advocates are concerned that the task force would be used to legalize LGBT discrimination.
“This taxpayer-funded task force is yet another example of the Trump-Pence White House and Jeff Sessions sanctioning discrimination against LGBTQ people,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow.
“Over the last 18 months, Donald Trump, Mike Pence and Jeff Sessions have engaged in a brazen campaign to erode and limit the rights of LGBTQ people in the name of religion. The Attorney General standing shoulder-to-shoulder this morning with anti-LGBTQ extremists tells you everything you need to know about what today’s announcement was really all about.”
The Liberty Counsel, designated an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, celebrated today’s announcement.
“The establishment of a Religious Liberty Task Force is an historic and positive step by the Trump administration to protect religious freedom and the rights of conscience,” said Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver in a statement.
“Today’s announcement by the Department of Justice is encouraging, and the Trump administration is to be commended for making this 180-degree turn from the past administration which used the federal government to violate religious freedom and conscience rather than protecting our first freedom.”