U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Monday, criticized recent attacks on religious freedom and announced the creation of a Religious Liberty Task Force that will work to “fully implement” the department’s religious liberty guidance.
The task force will be chaired by the associate attorney general and the assistant attorney general for the office of legal policy. The department issued religious liberty guidelines in October.
In remarks applauded by Christian leaders and religious liberty groups, Sessions bemoaned the hostility toward religious liberty.
“We have gotten to the point where courts have held that morality cannot be a basis for law, where ministers are fearful to affirm, as they understand it, holy writ from the pulpit, and where one group can actively target religious groups by labeling them a hate group on the basis of their sincerely held religious beliefs,” Sessions said. “This president and this Department of Justice are determined to protect and even advance this magnificent heritage.”
The Founders, he said, realized that “an individual’s relationship to God is a natural right and precedes the existence of the state, and is not subject to state control.”
“There can be no doubt that we are stronger as a nation because of the contribution of religious Americans,” Sessions said.
Referencing specific instances of attacks on religious liberty, Sessions said “we’ve seen nuns ordered to buy contraceptives” and “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.” The latter was, in part, referencing questions to Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Amy Barrett when she appeared before the Senate.
“We’ve all seen the ordeal faced so bravely by Jack Phillips,” Sessions said, alluding to the Colorado Christian cake designer who refused to design a cake for a same-sex wedding. He won at the Supreme Court.
“The Task Force,” Sessions said, “will help the Department fully implement our religious liberty guidance by ensuring that all Justice Department components are upholding that guidance in the cases they bring and defend, the arguments they make in court, the policies and regulations they adopt, and how we conduct our operations. That includes making sure that our employees know their duties to accommodate people of faith.”
Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious liberty legal group, applauded Sessions’ comments.
“We highly commend President Trump and Attorney General Sessions for following through on the most vital promises of their public service: the preservation and protection of religious liberty,” said Alliance Defending Freedom’s Kristen Waggoner. “Too many of the clients ADF represents are risking their businesses, their life savings, and their safety to follow their conscience.”
Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel – another religious liberty legal group – said the “establishment of a Religious Liberty Task Force is an historic and positive step by the Trump administration to protect religious freedom and the rights of conscience.”
Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com
Publication Date: July 30, 2018
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, The Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.