Sessions Memo Expands On Religious Liberty Exemptions

Oct 08, 2017, 00:46
Sessions Memo Expands On Religious Liberty Exemptions

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is telling federal agencies to do as much as possible to accommodate people who have religious objections to LGBT rights.

"The President has instructed me to issue guidance interpreting relgious liberty protections in federal law".

The new guidance says that the government can not place an undue burden on people or businesses because "the free exercise of religion includes the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one's religious beliefs".

Under the 1993 law, the federal government must not substantially burden one's deeply-held religious beliefs unless it establishes that to do so is in its "compelling interest" and is the "least-restrictive means" of fulfilling that interest.

"Under the new policy, a claim of a violation of religious freedom would be enough to override concerns for the civil rights of LGBT people and anti-discrimination protections for women and others", the AP explains.

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Religious liberty expert Robin Fretwell Wilson says the memo could force agencies to re-think their protections on sexual orientation and gender identity. "But the freedom of religion does not give people the right to impose their beliefs on others, to harm others, or to discriminate". The Trump administration pitches its rules weakening the birth control coverage mandate as policies that give voice to a purportedly "silenced" group.

"Religious liberty is not merely a right to personal religious beliefs or even to worship in a sacred place", he wrote.

"Today the Trump-Pence administration launched an all-out assault on LGBTQ people, women, and other minority communities by unleashing a sweeping license to discriminate", said Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin. This has been an important issue in the weeks after Hurricane Harvey with a group of Houston churches suing the Federal Emergency Management Agency, claiming they had been denied disaster relief grants due to their religious status.

He additionally explained that the government can not compel a person or organization to act contrary to their religion, stating that "a government action that bans an aspect of an adherent's religious observance or practice, compels an act inconsistent with that observance or practice, will qualify as a substantial burden on the exercise of religion".

"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. Every American has a right to believe, worship, and exercise their faith.

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Generally, the federal government may not condition federal grants or contracts on the religious organization altering its religious character, beliefs, or activities.

"The Founders envisioned a Nation in which religious voices and views were integral to a vibrant public square, and in which religious people and institutions were free to practice their faith without fear of discrimination or retaliation by the Federal Government", the executive order says in Section 1. The AP calls it "an order that undercuts protections for LGBT people".

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits covered employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of their religion. 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". Unfortunately, to the extent that the guidance defines existing law as permitting discrimination, that is a meaningless assurance.

The Becket Fund, a religious freedom law firm that defended the Little Sisters of the Poor in court against the mandate, praised the "common sense, balanced rule", but added that the litigation is ongoing in mandate cases. "We urge the federal courts to reject the radical efforts by this administration to justify discrimination on the basis of religion".

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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