Last Friday, the Trump Administration announced major policy changes that significantly weaken the principle of church-state separation and serve as a blueprint for using religion to discriminate, especially against women and LGBTQ people.

The two new rules that offer organizations and corporations the right to deny women insurance coverage for contraception made the news. Less coverage was given to the Department of Justice’s 25-page guidance titled, “Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty.” This guidance contains extreme interpretations of the law in an effort to give a greenlight to religious exemptions, regardless of how an exemption would affect other people or the public interest.

Religious freedom is a fundamental value, but it does not allow religion to be used as an excuse to harm other people.

New Trump Administration policies are a blueprint for using religion to discriminate.

Here are just a few of the most troubling ways the guidance could be used:

  • People and corporations may cite religion as an excuse to ignore nondiscrimination laws that protect women and LGBTQ people.
  • Taxpayer-funded organizations can claim a right to discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion. They can also use a religious litmus test to decide whom they will serve within the government-funded social service program and which services they will provide, even if it conflicts with the terms of the government grant or contract.
  • The government will give religious exemptions to businesses and government employees, even if the result is taking away a right or benefit the law guarantees to someone else.

In other words, the guidance allows taxpayer-funded organizations, corporations, and individuals to use religion as a trump card to almost any law.

This guidance misses the mark: Our laws should be a shield to protect religious freedom and not a sword to harm others. Our country is strongest when we are all free to believe or not, as we see fit, and to practice our faith – without hurting others.