AG Sessions announces guidelines that broaden religious freedom

A bump stock is attached to a semi-automatic

Less noticed was another critical development in the US religious liberty landscape: Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued government-wide legal guidance outlining 20 principles of religious liberty that, the Department of Justice says, should govern all administrative agencies and executive departments in their work.

The new DOJ memo is "an attempt to deliver on President Donald Trump's pledge to his evangelical and other religious supporters", the AP reports, saying it "effectively lifts a burden from religious objectors to prove that their beliefs about marriage or other topics are sincerely held". Experts on religious liberty are saying Sessions' "guidance" will mostly likely prompt wide-ranging lawsuits against the government.

Tony Perkins, head of the conservative Family Research Council, in a statement lauding Trump, said his group has set up a hot line for federal employees and others who feel they've faced discrimination over their religious beliefs.

Under the new policy, a claim of violation of religious freedom would be enough to override concerns about civil rights for LGBTI people.

It's actually not terribly clear, though, that this memo makes much of a difference in how the current Justice Department will tackle LGBT discrimination issues because of how it is already tackling LGBT issues.

The religious freedom guidance also comes on the same day the Trump administration rolled back a mandate under the Affordable Care Act requiring businesses to include birth control as part of insurance coverage.

"Religious liberty is not merely a right to personal religious beliefs or even to worship in a sacred place", Mr. Sessions wrote in the 25-page memo. The government's compelling interest in enforcing these laws should mean the businesses lose their arguments - but the Department of Justice guidance suggests that the interest in ending discrimination against LGBT people isn't actually all that important.

Sessions plans to reinvigorate and expand the Project Safe Neighborhoods program to fight drug trafficking and violent crime in neighborhoods across the country, the Justice Department said.

Freedom of religion does not give people right to discriminate.

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The 20-point guidance specifically says that the government can not make the disavowal of a religious view a condition of an organization or group receiving a grant or contract from the federal government and that "the freedom of religion extends to persons and organizations".

'It opens the door for discrimination in the workplace and public services, flying in the face of the majority of Americans of whom over 70 percent believe laws should protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, ' Isaacs said. "There will be numerous interpretations of what that religious freedom test would be and how the license to discrimination would be applied across particular agencies, grants and contracts", Stachelberg says.

While it is now the position of the Department of Justice that Title VII protections do not extend to transgender individuals, employers should still be careful to avoid discrimination on the basis of gender identity, as the law is still unsettled. The AP calls it "an order that undercuts protections for LGBT people".

Louise Melling, a deputy legal director with the ACLU, says the DOJ guidance interprets federal law prohibiting employment discrimination to "permit employers to fire anyone whose beliefs or conduct are inconsistent with the teachings of their faith". But the new guidance, demonstrating the unsafe distortion of religious liberty by the Supreme Court's conservatives in the Hobby Lobby case, redefines "significant burden" to essentially cover being offended.

"This discrimination is not an American value".

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the administration's announcements Friday as clearly in line with Supreme Court precedent.

To put it simply: Religion is being used as an excuse for discrimination.

Advocates for the rights of women and LGBT people have quickly condemned a move by the Trump administration that will make it infinitely easier to get away with discriminating by claiming that having to treat people fairly violates their religious liberty.

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