Justice Department Announces Strong Defense For Religious Freedom

Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a directive today that'll give institutions and individuals the right refuse services to women and the LGBT community for those institutions that can argue that their religious freedoms are being violated.

Also on Friday, the Department of Justice announced a religious freedom guidance that was ordered by President Trump in his May 4 executive order on religious freedom.

In a call with reporters, ADF CEO Michael Farris confirmed to ABC News that Sessions met with the group during a series of so-called "listening sessions" convened by the Attorney General, who says he was "seeking suggestions regarding the areas of federal protection for religious liberty most in need of clarification or guidance".

"Federal agencies, government contractors, and grant recipients should not be permitted to discriminate simply by citing a religious belief for doing so", Gupta concluded. The memo comes a day after Sessions rescinded a policy protecting transgender people from discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Legal organizations likely will file lawsuits over the guidance for compromising the rights of LGBT people and others.

It's actually not terribly clear, though, that this memo makes much of a difference in how the current Justice Department will tackle LGBT discrimination issues because of how it is already tackling LGBT issues.

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The guidelines touch on a number of high-profile religious liberty disputes, including the Hobby Lobby case that challenged the requirement that employers provide health insurance coverage that includes contraception. But this is Donald Trump's fulfillment of a promise he made to Religious Right organizations both as a candidate and as president.

Critics said the guidance could result in LGBT individuals, women or others facing discrimination in federal programs.

Politico adds that this new legal guidance "could affect health care, gay rights, political action by churches", and says it takes a "muscular view of religious freedom rights". Further, our nation has a longstanding bi-partisan commitment to religious liberty as evidenced by Senator Ted Kennedy's passionate advocacy for the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

'It opens the door for discrimination in the workplace and public services, flying in the face of the majority of Americans of whom over 70 percent believe laws should protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, ' Isaacs said.

'President Trump and the Department of Justice are putting federal government agencies on notice: You will not only respect the freedom of every American to believe but live according to those beliefs, ' Perkins said in a statement.

Generally, the federal government may not condition federal grants or contracts on the religious organization altering its religious character, beliefs, or activities.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the administration's announcements Friday as clearly in line with Supreme Court precedent. In a memo to the nation's federal prosecutors, Sessions says the law bars discrimination between men and women but does not extend to gender identity.

The department's civil-rights division will now be involved in reviewing all agency actions to make sure they don't conflict with federal law regarding religious liberty.

The guidance also reiterates that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employers covered by the regulation from discriminating based on an individual's religious belief, observance or practice, "unless the employer can not reasonably accommodate such observance or practice without undue hardship".

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.

Additionally, in 2015 while Mike Pence was governor, in passed its own version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, despite outcry from opponents who argued the bill could be used to legally discriminate against LGBTI people.

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