Sessions Memo Expands On Religious Liberty Exemptions

Sessions Memo Expands On Religious Liberty Exemptions

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.

Among 20 principles outlined in the memo, the Justice Department finds that RFRA protections extend not just to individuals but also to organizations, associations and at least some for-profit companies and that the government is not permitted to "second-guess the reasonableness of a religious belief".

"Our freedom as citizens has always been inextricably linked with our religious freedom as a people", Sessions said in an October 6 statement.

"Religious liberty is not merely a right to personal religious beliefs or even to worship in a sacred place", Sessions wrote. "President Trump and the Department of Justice are putting federal government agencies on notice: you will not only respect the freedom of every American to believe but live according to those beliefs".

In a memo sent to the heads of all federal agencies and the US attorneys, the attorney general stated that as a matter of law, "Title VII does not prohibit discrimination based on gender identity per se".

One of the most troubling aspects of the guidance is its broad reading of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

The memo itself does not specifically reference gay or transgender people, but given that its instructions are about how Department of Justice agencies should take religious freedom issues in mind when enforcing laws, contracting, and distributing grants, there was an immediate concern from LGBT activist groups and allies that this was the "permission to discriminate" they've suspected the administration had been planning all along, but had not yet come.

He instructed the USA attorneys to "implement an enhanced violent crime reduction program that incorporates the lessons learned since the original program's launch in 2001 and leverages new strategies to help turn the tide against violent crime".

Sessions memo says Title VII doesn't bar... "I would never use my faith to justify harm and discrimination to others like this country does to me". The administration had allowed some religious organizations to opt out of the contraceptive requirement, but the religious groups said that the exemption process didn't go far enough.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that requiring family-owned corporations to pay for insurance coverage for contraception under the Affordable Care Act violated a federal law protecting religious freedom. This is consistent with the EEOC's 2016 Strategic Enforcement Plan, which includes "p$3 rotecting lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) people from discrimination based on sex" as a top enforcement priority.

Camilla Taylor, senior legal counsel at Lambda Legal, describes the guidance as an "effort to pressure agencies into valuing religious liberties over protections from discrimination".

"This guidance is part of a tradition of administrations helping to educate the public and officials regarding the laws that protect religious liberty, such as President Clinton's pioneering guidance protecting religious liberty in public schools. A lot of municipalities already have policies prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people", Hoover said.

"Today the Trump administration made two commendable decisions in support of the bedrock American principle of religious liberty", Dr. Matthew Franck, director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute, told CNA, calling the actions "cause for much celebration".

In short, the new guidelines from the Trump administration are despicable.

Trump's order is being challenged in court, though some religious activists and experts have said it was more symbolic than practically meaningful. The AP calls it "an order that undercuts protections for LGBT people".

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