The Trump-Pence administration continues to cater to a small group of fundamentalist Christians who want to weaponize religious freedom as a means to justify discrimination. And Americans United continues to call out the administration’s attempts to turn over federal policy decisions to this fringe faction.
Today AU demanded that the Department of Justice (DOJ) divulge records that reveal the circumstances and the people involved in the creation of the so-called Religious Liberty Task Force – a murky unit within DOJ that was launched by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in July.
Sessions announced that the task force would implement the “religious liberty” guidance he issued a year ago – a guidance that established a blueprint for using religion to justify broad religious exemptions that would allow discrimination against LGBTQ people, women, religious minorities and others.
This guidance, and the task force created to enforce it, would transform religious freedom from a shield of protection into a sword wielded to harm others. They bear the stain of influence from the narrow set of evangelical Christians who have infiltrated the administration, from President Donald Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board to the foes of church-state separation who surrounded Sessions when the task force was announced.
The DOJ has remained silent on just how much influence the Religious Right has had on the task force. Also kept behind closed doors is how the task force was formed, what its policies and guidelines are, who is on it, how it will work and what it has done so far.
Americans United wants to shed light on the task force, so we sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the DOJ today, demanding records about the task force’s creation, intent and operations. We also requested documents concerning how specific individuals may have been involved with the task force, including a half-dozen current or former representatives of the Religious Right legal group Alliance Defending Freedom.
It’s our second demand for transparency regarding the influence evangelical Christians are exerting on the Trump-Pence administration in the last few months. In August we told the administration to shut down Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board until it complies with federal sunshine laws. Members of the board have touted unprecedented access to and influence on the administration, but the public – those who are actually affected by the board’s recommendations – has absolutely no access to or influence on it.
In addition to a FOIA request for information about this board’s operations, AU demanded that it either be disbanded or made to comply with the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires presidential advisory boards to make their meetings and records available to the public.
When he announced his new task force, Sessions referred to a “dangerous movement” that was standing in the way of those who would redefine religious freedom to undermine church-state separation. Americans United is proud to be leading this movement that protects our foundational promise that religious freedom protects everyone’s right to worship, or not, as they see fit while ensuring that religion isn’t used to harm others. This movement is only “dangerous” to the worldview that religious freedom protects a select few and allows them to discriminate.
Join us and you can be part of the movement too!