Justice Department issues policy memo declaring religious freedom 'paramount' in US

Violet Powell
October 8, 2017

- Trying to cut questions that would identify LGBTQ people in various data collection efforts. Senators who care about civil rights must press Attorney General Sessions on this issue when he appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee in two weeks.

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

Less noticed was another critical development in the US religious liberty landscape: Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued government-wide legal guidance outlining 20 principles of religious liberty that, the Department of Justice says, should govern all administrative agencies and executive departments in their work.

The post Attorney General Jeff Sessions Issues Broad "Religious Freedom" Guidance That Should Concern All LGBT Americans appeared first on Towleroad. "The guidance does not authorize anyone to discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity in violation of federal law or change existing federal and state protections". 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.

Also included in the guidance is a section asserting religious organization acting on their beliefs shouldn't be penalized in competition for federal contracts.

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Justice Department officials say the analysis was produced to follow up on President Donald Trump's executive order on religious freedom in May, and they say it sets no new policies and isn't directly related to any pending legal dispute.

Justice Department policy as outlined in the new memo "will enable systemic, government-wide discrimination that will have a devastating impact on LGBTQ people and their families", Griffin concluded. This freedom extends to both individuals and organizations, and it is not surrendered when Americans engage in the marketplace or interact with the government. LGBTQ advocates argue years of rulings have shown, as a Lambda Legal executive puts it, "discrimination against transgender people is a form of sex discrimination". "The one silver lining here is that none of this is binding on the courts, so people should continue to keep suing companies that discriminate...even if the government won't do anything", she said.

The religious freedom guidance also comes on the same day the Trump administration rolled back a mandate under the Affordable Care Act requiring businesses to include birth control as part of insurance coverage.

Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993 in response to outcry about a Supreme Court case involving two members of a Native American church in OR who used the hallucinogen peyote in a religious ceremony. "I look forward to working with the U.S. Attorney's office to reinvigorate Project Safe Neighborhood, cracking down on violent offenders and removing them from Montana communities". As Attorney General Sessions' memorandum notes, there are still federal statutes that prohibit discrimination against transgender persons, and states and localities may have additional protections.

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. It can be used for an organization refusing to offer birth control to their employees. It means the DOJ won't take the side of transgender people in Title VII lawsuits-but the government's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission still does, and the EEOC website lists a string of cases in which federal courts have agreed. Agencies like the State Department, where many employees have historically been reticent to talk about the role religion in worldwide problems, could be affected by this, Destro said.

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