Attorney General Jeff Sessions on July 30 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 DOJ-sponsored Religious Liberty Summit – 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 this 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.”
In a media statement, Americans United President and CEO Rachel Laser said that rather than protect religious freedom, Sessions’ task force would enable it to be used as a sword to harm others.
“The event by the Justice Department offends the true meaning of religious freedom,” said Laser. “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.”
Featured speakers included 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; 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; and U.S. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), a proponent of several pieces of legislation that would undermine church-state separation.
When Sessions issued his guidance last fall, AU Legislative Director Maggie Garrett noted on AU’s “Wall of Separation” blog that it could be used by individuals, businesses and taxpayer-funded organizations to cite religious beliefs in order to ignore antidiscrimination laws that protect women, LGBTQ people, religious minorities and many others.