Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke to the anti-LGBTQ conservative group Alliance Defending Freedom on Wednesday night, lauding the organization and arguing against its designation as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
This is the second time Sessions has spoken to the group, which represented Colorado baker Jack Phillips in his U.S. Supreme Court case, in which he argued his First Amendment rights would be violated if he were made to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. The Trump administration backed Phillips, and the president shared that he was pleased when the baker won his case, in a narrow ruling.
While last year’s event was held behind closed doors, drawing criticism, this time it was streamed live on Facebook.
“When I spoke to ADF last year, I learned that the Southern Poverty Law Center had classified ADF as a ’hate group.’ Many in the media simply parroted it as fact. Amazon relied solely on the SPLC designation and removed ADF from its Smile program, which allows customers to donate to charities,” Sessions told the group.
“They have used this designation as a weapon and they have wielded it against conservative organizations that refuse to accept their orthodoxy and choose instead to speak their conscience. They use it to bully and intimidate groups like yours which fight for the religious freedom, the civil rights, and the constitutional rights of others,” he continued.
“You and I may not agree on everything—but I wanted to come back here tonight partly because I wanted to say this: you are not a hate group.”
Sessions went on to applaud their “9-0 record at the Supreme Court over the past seven years—and that includes two of the most important cases of the last term.”
“Let me say this loud and clear: at the Department of Justice, we will not partner with hate groups. Not on my watch,” he added.
“I have ordered a review at the Department of Justice to make sure that we do not partner with any groups that discriminate. We will not partner with groups that unfairly defame Americans for standing up for the Constitution or their faith.”
SPLC President Richard Cohen defended the designation.
“Just as sincerely held religious beliefs would not be a defense to a hate crime prosecution, vilifying others in the name of religion should not immunize a group from being designated as a hate group, in our view,” Cohen said in a statement. “And it’s ironic to suggest that the rights of ADF sympathizers are under attack when the ADF is doing everything in its power to deny the equal protection of the laws to the LGBT community.”
The Attorney General also addressed the new “religious liberty task force” at the Justice Department, tasked with ensuring the DOJ gives added weight to arguments of so-called “religious freedom,” which critics have dubbed “a license to discriminate.”
“More than 100,000 people tweeted about it,” Sessions noted.
“It was the third most tweeted-about topic on Earth at one point that day. Late-night comedians joked about it—although ‘joke’ is a generous term for their doings,” he continued, before going off-script to admit “actually some of it was pretty funny.”
“Contrary to the elites and their ’resistance,’ this task force is simply going to help us fully protect our religious freedoms that are preexisting, unalienable,” he claimed.