Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the formation of a “Religious Liberty Task Force” to enforce the Department of Justice (DOJ) guidance he issued last fall that would allow religion to be used to discriminate.

The announcement came during a Religious Liberty Summit yesterday – an event that was replete with religion and representatives of organizations that strive to undermine the separation of church and state.

“Americans from a wide variety of backgrounds are concerned about what this changing cultural climate means for the future of religious liberty in his country,” Sessions said. “President Trump heard this concern. I believe this unease is one reason that he was elected. In substance, he said he respected people of faith and promised to protect them in the free exercise of their faith.”

What Sessions really means is that the Trump administration is committed to an agenda of preserving the power of the Christian fundamentalists who carried Trump into office and who want to use their religious beliefs as justification to discriminate against women, LGBTQ people, religious minorities and anyone else who doesn’t conform with their narrow vision of Christianity.

The new task force is the Trump administration’s most recent step to undermine people’s rights in the name of religious freedom. Sessions charged the task force with implementing his infamous guidance on religious liberty, which is a blueprint for using religion to discriminate. AU Legislative Director Maggie Garrett previously described some of the harmful outcomes that could result from the guidance:

  • People and corporations could cite religion to ignore nondiscrimination laws that protect women and LGBTQ people.
  • Taxpayer-funded organizations could use religion to justify discriminating against the employees they hire and the people they serve, even if it conflicts with the terms of their government grant or contract.
  • The government could give religious exemptions to businesses and government employees, even if the result meant taking away a right or benefit the law guarantees to someone else.

In other words, the guidance would allow people, businesses and taxpayer-funded organizations to use religion as a trump card to almost any law.

There’s no doubt that using religion as a sword to harm others is the administration’s intent with this new task force. Just consider who surrounded Sessions at Monday’s summit:

  • The owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, the Colorado bakery that asked the Supreme Court to condone its use of religion to discriminate against a gay couple seeking a wedding cake. The DOJ had supported Masterpiece’s argument.
  • Louisville Archbishop Joseph Edward Kurtz, a leader in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who advocated for allowing taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care providers to discriminate against parents and children and for nonprofits to deny women access to birth control, all in the name of religion.
  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), a proponent of several pieces of legislation that would undermine church-state separation, including the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act that would allow adoption agencies to discriminate and the Conscience Protection Act that would allow health care providers to deny medical care.
  • Several people who have been affiliated with the conservative Christian legal organizations Alliance Defending Freedom and Becket Fund, some of the leading advocates for these types of policies.

“The event by the Justice Department offends the true meaning of religious freedom,” said Rachel Laser, AU’s president and CEO. “Far from seeking to safeguard religious freedom, Trump, Sessions and their allies are hard at work trying to destroy that precious right by favoring the religious views of a select few at the expense of religious freedom for all Americans. They seek religious freedom for some, not for all.”

Americans United will continue to fight for religious freedom for all Americans. Join us!