Jeff Sessions Announces New Religious Liberty Task Force

It will enforce guidelines put forward last year to provide religious exemptions for organizations that don't want to work with LGBTQ people and others.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced today the formation of a “religious liberty task force” to implement and enforce the guidelines issued last year through executive order.

Earlier this year, Trump signed another executive order setting up a faith-based office, the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative.

The task force will be co-chaired by Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio and the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy, Beth Williams.

Sessions Religious Liberty
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From second left: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein attend the Religious Liberty Summit at the Department of Justice on July 30, 2018 in Washington, D.C.

Sessions said the task 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,” reports The Hill.

The Attorney General bemoaned the current political culture around the separation of church and state, including a mention of Colorado baker Jack Phillips, with whom the administration sided in his case before the U.S. Supreme Court, where he argued his right to free speech was infringed upon by being made to provide a wedding cake to a same-sex couple.

Phillips won his case with a narrow ruling, stating his religious objections were not seriously and fairly considered by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

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“We’ve seen nuns ordered to buy contraceptives. We’ve seen U.S. senators ask judicial and executive branch nominees about dogma—even though the Constitution explicitly forbids a religious test for public office. We’ve all seen the ordeal faced so bravely by Jack Phillips,” Sessions said during today’s announcement.

 

In a statement, HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow called out the Trump administration for “sanctioning discrimination against LGBTQ people”:

Over the last 18 months, Donald Trump, Mike Pence and Jeff Sessions have engaged in a brazen campaign to erode and limit the rights of LGBTQ people in the name of religion. The Attorney General standing shoulder-to-shoulder this morning with anti-LGBTQ extremists tells you everything you need to know about what today’s announcement was really all about.

Journalist based in Charlotte, North Carolina, whose work has appeared in The Charlotte Observer, Creative Loafing, and more.