During his campaign, President Trump promised to make it easier for religious groups to discriminate under the guise of religious freedom. He took his first step toward making good on that promise earlier this year when he signed a “Religious Liberty” executive order. Now, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken things a step further and issued a guidance clarifying the information laid out in that order.
On Friday, USA Today reports, Sessions introduced the guidance, which would allow religious people to act on their beliefs even when they conflict with government regulations, including when making hiring decisions.
In a 25-page memo titled Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty, Sessions explained the reason for the guidance as follows:
‘Except in the narrowest of circumstances, no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law. To the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, religious observance and practice should be reasonably accommodated in all government action, including employment, contracting and programming.’
The directive also extends further protections to religious groups by saying that the Internal Revenue Service cannot enforce the Johnson Amendment — which prohibits non-profit groups (like churches) from being involved in political campaigns on behalf of specific candidates — in cases involving religious non-profits when they wouldn’t also enforce it against secular organizations.
Sessions also issued a statement about the guidance on Friday and said that the Trump administration will no longer “allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced.”
‘As President Trump said, “Faith is deeply embedded into the history of our country, the spirit of our founding and the soul of our nation … [this administration] will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore.”
‘The constitutional protection of religious beliefs and the right to exercise those beliefs have served this country well, have made us one of the most tolerant countries in the world, and have also helped make us the freeist (sic) and most generous.’
The guidance was issued around the same time that the Trump administration announced it would also allow employers to stop providing their employees with insurance coverage for birth control if doing so contradicted their religious or moral beliefs.
Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, has praised both decisions. He said in a statement on Friday:
‘After eight years of the federal government’s relentless assault on the First Amendment, the Trump administration has taken concrete steps today that will once again erect a bulwark of protection around American’s first freedom — religious freedom.’
Civil rights leaders, on the other hand, have strongly criticized the administration’s actions. Vanita Gupta, president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said about the birth control announcement:
‘This is a direct attack on women’s rights. The Trump administration is using the guise of religious liberty to carry out their ideological agenda to deprive women of basic reproductive health care.’
Louise Melling, the deputy legal director for the ACLU, also said the following about the religious freedom guidance:
‘It is countenancing discrimination. It is countenancing exercises of faith in a way that will harm other individuals.’
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