08 October, 2017
At the instruction of President Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has released a memo to all government departments and agencies that provides guidance as to how federal laws pertaining to religious liberty protections should be interpreted.
Justice Department officials say the analysis was produced to follow up on President Donald Trump's executive order on religious freedom in May, and they say it sets no new policies and isn't directly related to any pending legal dispute.
The guidance says the government can not unduly burden people or certain businesses from practicing their faith, noting, "The free exercise of religion includes the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one's religious beliefs".
"This guidance will help protect families like the Vander Boons in MI who were threatened with the effective closure of their family-run business for simply expressing a religious point of view on marriage that differed from that of the federal government".
Numerous current conflicts in the religious sphere concern civil rights for lesbians, gays and transgender people _ for instance, whether religious organizations can refuse to employ people due to their sexual identification. The message of today's guidance is that these and other targets have few if any legal rights that their antagonists need to respect. They are an open invitation to discrimination against women, members of the LGBT population, and others, all in the name of "religious freedom".
"Religious liberty is not merely a right to personal religious beliefs or even to worship in a sacred place", Sessions wrote. "A lot of municipalities already have policies prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people", Hoover said.
The Justice Department consulted with the Mormon Church, the Alliance Defending Freedom, and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops when crafting the guidance, all of whom have a history of opposing LGBTQ rights.
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The government also may not condition the provision of grant money or contracts on the relinquishment of certain religious characteristics or hiring practices.
The administration first announced on Friday an expansion of religious and moral exemptions to the HHS contraceptive mandate, over which many non-profit groups and some for-profit businesses had sued the federal government.
The guidance later says that the government can not "second-guess" whether a person's religious belief is reasonable and instructs that the scrutiny given to government regulations on the exercise of religion must be "exceptionally demanding". 'The White House says the guidance "does not authorize anyone to discriminate" - and Lambda Legal will make sure it doesn't'.
The Becket Fund, a religious freedom law firm that defended the Little Sisters of the Poor in court against the mandate, praised the "common sense, balanced rule", but added that the litigation is ongoing in mandate cases.
"The Founders envisioned a Nation in which religious voices and views were integral to a vibrant public square, and in which religious people and institutions were free to practice their faith without fear of discrimination or retaliation by the Federal Government", the executive order says in Section 1. But the new guidance, demonstrating the risky distortion of religious liberty by the Supreme Court's conservatives in the Hobby Lobby case, redefines "significant burden" to essentially cover being offended. This is consistent with the EEOC's 2016 Strategic Enforcement Plan, which includes "p$3 rotecting lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) people from discrimination based on sex" as a top enforcement priority. "With these changes, I believe that this program will be more effective than ever and help us fulfill our mission to make America safer".
On Thursday, the Justice Department announced rolling back an Obama era regulation, protecting transgender people from workplace discrimination.
Additionally, in 2015 while Mike Pence was governor, in passed its own version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, despite outcry from opponents who argued the bill could be used to legally discriminate against LGBTI people.