President-elect Donald Trump on Friday nominated U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to be attorney general. The attorney general serves as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, responsible for upholding our nation’s laws. Many view Sen. Sessions as a troubling choice, including those of us who fight for religious freedom.
Let’s start with the basics. Sessions lacks respect for the constitutional principle of church-state separation, which he has called an “extra-constitutional doctrine” and “a recent thing that is unhistorical and unconstitutional.” But we know that separation of church and state is the foundation of our nation’s policy of freedom of religion. It is because the Constitution guarantees that the government can’t favor religion over non-religion or prefer any one faith that we can freely choose our beliefs.
As a result of his alarming views, Sessions played a key role in keeping a 29-foot cross on display on government property in Southern California and sponsored a resolution in the Senate encouraging the display of the Ten Commandments at government facilities, including courthouses.
He rebuked then Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) because Leahy swore in witnesses without requiring them to use the phrase “So help me, God.” Sessions remarked, “Ninety-five percent of the people believe in God. An invocation of His name, in conjunction with the seriousness of telling the truth, has an importance beyond mere legal requirement.”
And he has even attacked the core principle of secular government, stating, “We are at a period of secularization in America that I think is very dangerous, it erodes the very concept of truth, the very concept of right and wrong, and there are people out there who enjoy attacking people who follow biblical directives.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions seems unlikely to promote justice for all.
Second, Sessions would likely struggle to ensure the law applies to everyone fairly. For example, in June, Sessions voted against a resolution stating opposition to banning individuals from entering the country based on their religion. And he claimed that Trump’s proposed immigration policy that would ban Muslims from entering the country is “biblical,” remarking, “So the idea that nations don’t set laws, establish who can and can’t enter, is not biblical in my opinion. Nations do that and they’ve done it since time immemorial and there’s nothing wrong with it.”
Sessions even believes in applying religious tests to our Supreme Court Justices. He has implied that Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor isn’t religious enough to do her job. (Sotomayor is Catholic.) He seems to think secularism as applied to government is a bad thing. (He voted against confirming both Sotomayor and Elena Kagen. He also voted against confirming Judge David Hamilton to an appellate court in part because of Hamilton’s strong record on church-state separation.)
Our concerns don’t end there. In 2003, Sessions called for an amendment barring marriage equality. At a press conference, Sessions remarked, “In my view, it is incontestable that marriage is a valuable thing. The formal definition of marriage as we’ve understood it for so many years is the union of a man and a woman in holy matrimony.” When the Supreme Court upheld marriage equality in 2015, Sessions called the ruling “unconstitutional.”
And, in the Senate, Sessions has voted for voucher plans that would funnel taxpayer money to private sectarian schools.
Anyone who thought that Trump might moderate now that he’s headed to the White House needs to think again. The Sessions nomination is a sign of what we’re going to have to deal with: a far-right administration that has no respect for the constitutional principle of church-state separation that has served our nation so well.