Attorney General Jeff Sessions has announced the creation of a ‘Religious Liberty Task Force” in order to help implement a 25-page memo issued last October regarding the protection and promotion of ‘religious liberty.’
Speaking at the Justice Department today, Sessions told reporters he will chair the new task force.
“A dangerous movement, undetected by many, but real, is now challenging and eroding a great tradition of religious freedom,” said Sessions with a dramatic sense of foreboding. “There can be no doubt it’s no little matter. It must be confronted intellectually and politically and defeated.”
— Human Rights Campaign (@HRC) July 30, 2018
In today’s political climate, it's clear the subject being discussed includes legal challenges brought by the LGBTQ community regarding discrimination in the public sector. Sessions referenced anti-LGBTQ baker Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop in his remarks.
From The Hill:
“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,” he said, referring to the Colorado baker who took his case to the Supreme Court after he was found to have violated the state’s anti-discrimination laws for refusing to make a cake for a same-sex wedding.
Sessions said the guidance he issued in October lays out 20 fundamental principles for the executive branch to follow, including the principles that free exercise means a right to act — or to abstain from action — and that government shouldn’t impugn people’s motives or beliefs.
“In short, we have not only the freedom to worship—but the right to exercise our faith. The Constitution’s protections don’t end at the parish parking lot nor can our freedoms be confined to our basements,” he said, according to his prepared remarks.
Sessions also shared that he believes the issue of ‘religious liberty’ is one reason why Donald Trump was elected president.
“In substance, he said he respected people of faith and he promised to protect them in the free exercise of their faith,” said Sessions. “He declared we would say ‘Merry Christmas’ again.”
Lucas Acosta, LGBTQ media director for the Democratic National Committee, issued this statement denouncing Sessions' task force as "shamefully doubling down on bigotry:"
“From supporting the right to refuse service to same-sex couples to banning military service by transgender individuals to removing mentions of LGBTQ issues from the White House website, Attorney General Sessions’ creation of a Religious Liberty Task Force is just the latest assault in this administration’s continued campaign against LGBTQ people and our civil rights.
“By creating this task force, Sessions is establishing a unit dedicated to undermining LGBTQ rights and giving anti-LGBTQ far-right extremists like task force head Jesse Panuccio a taxpayer-funded platform to push their anti-equality agenda. Rather than ensuring every person has equal protections and opportunities, Sessions is shamefully doubling down on bigotry.
“This action is further proof that Republicans continue to push forward an agenda completely out of step with the American people and our values. Democrats will continue to focus on how to improve opportunity for all Americans regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or income.”
HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said in a statement, “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.”
You can watch the full speech by Sessions below, and you can read a transcript of his full speech here.