Civil liberties groups decry Sessions' guidance on religious freedom

  • Civil liberties groups decry Sessions' guidance on religious freedom

Civil liberties groups decry Sessions' guidance on religious freedom

Former Attorney General Eric Holder in 2014 interpreted "sex" discrimination to apply to discrimination based on gender identity, while Sessions' DOJ interprets that it only applies to discrimination between men and women.

For example, Louise Melling, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that the guidance could allow a religious employer to fire an employee who had a child out of wedlock or fire an employee who married a same-sex partner.

"This Department of Justice under Jeff Sessions has time and time again made it clear that its explicit agenda is to attack and undermine the civil rights of our most vulnerable communities, rather than standing up for them as they should be doing", he said. That law explicitly bans unlawful discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Oregonians.

The 11th Circuit has ruled in favor of a transgender woman who was sacked because she meant to transition from male to female, though the complaint in that case was brought under the Equal Protection Clause and not Title VII.

The guidance also stresses that individuals and organizations don't give up their rights to religious liberty protections under the law simply because of their employment status or their affiliation with any level government.

What exactly is Session saying here?

Department of Justice spokesperson Devin O'Malley said in a statement that "The Department of Justice can not expand the law beyond what Congress has provided".

The 25-page memo maps out 20 guiding principles reminding agencies that freedom of religion is a fundamental right and that the free exercise of religion "includes the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one's religious beliefs".

Unsurprisingly, the DOJ's directive was met with effusive praise by right-wing lawmakers and religious organizations, and fierce condemnation by civil rights groups that argue the Sessions memo constitutes little more than a "license to discriminate" against the LGBTQ community.

The Justice Department under Sessions and Trump has changed course significantly from the Obama administration, especially on issues of civil rights and protections for LGBT people.

The memo says it should not be construed to condone mistreatment on the basis of gender identity, or to express a policy view on whether Congress should amend Title VII to provide additional protections.

But activists don't want to go through Congress because they will fail.

Obviously, as with all other issues in the culture war, this one will nearly certainly end up in the Supreme Court. So in the end, the activists may well get their way - and America will be poorer for it.

The memos direct US Attorneys, department heads, and federal agencies to "effective immediately, incorporate the interpretative guidance in litigation strategy and arguments, operations, grant administration, and all other aspects ofthe Department's work, keeping in mind the President's declaration that '[i] t shall be the policy ofthe executive branch to vigorously enforce Federal law's robust protections for religious freedom'".

Sarah Kate Ellis, President and CEO of GLAAD, said: "Today's guidance by Jeff Sessions proves this Administration will do anything possible to categorize LGBTQ Americans as second-class citizens who are not equal under the law".