With “Religious Liberty Task Force,” AG Jeff Sessions Gives A License To Discriminate

While the Trump administration continues to roll back civil rights protections, the Attorney General increases the potential for discrimination.

President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions stand for the national anthem during the 37th annual National Peace Officers Memorial Service on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, May 15, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions stand for the national anthem during the 37th annual National Peace Officers Memorial Service on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, May 15, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Monday morning, Attorney General Jeff Sessions held a “Religious Liberty Summit” at the Department of Justice Headquarters. At the summit, which was backed by members from Alliance Defending Freedom (a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group), Sessions announced the creation of a “Religious Liberty Task Force,” designed to implement guidelines announced by Sessions last October.

The guidelines referenced in this speech were introduced by the Attorney General last fall, as a sweeping memorandum on how to interpret religious liberty protections. Many civil rights activists and critics of the memo were concerned that the broad interpretation it provided would give people of faith loopholes to work around federal bans on certain types of discrimination. The memo covered protections for both individuals and organizations, and came on the heels of legal challenges which had brought the concept of “religious liberty” to the forefront of national discourse.

The task force announced by Sessions Monday morning would be used to help implement these guidelines in response to a negative “cultural climate.” According to his announcement, this force will “ensure all Justice Department components are upholding that guidance in the cases they bring and defend, the arguments they make in court, the policies and regulations they adopt, and how we conduct our operations.”

During the speech, Sessions referenced both nuns being ordered to buy contraceptives and executive branch nominees being questioned regarding their religious stances – neither of which is fully representative of the events that occurred. It’s also worth noting that ADF, who backed this announcement and who has been extremely influential regarding this administration’s detrimental policies regarding LGBT+ people, has often supported recriminalization of homosexuality in the United States.

The Trump administration has spent much of its time in power rolling back civil rights protections – from voter suppression to judicial appointments of officials known to have discriminatory pasts – and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has led the majority of this charge. The creation of a so-called “Religious Liberty Task Force” is highly unlikely to serve as an actual means of protection for the rights enumerated by the Constitution – which protect the freedom to practice all religions, not just the conservative Christianity Sessions has been the most concerned with.

Given both Sessions’ well-documented history of discriminatory beliefs and the common use of “religious liberty” as a cover for what is truly a license to discriminate, this announcement is extremely concerning. Without a doubt, Americans should have a right to practice their faith freely – but when doing so comes at the cost of the human rights of their neighbor, said practice is neither in good faith nor supportive of the ideals this country claims to value.

Deconstructed // Donald Trump / Jeff Sessions / Religion