Critics Say 2 Memos From Sessions Attack LGBTQ Rights

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday issued a 25-page memo that establishes the Trump administration's interpretation of federal law and regulations in an attempt to deliver to religious conservatives the widest possible license to discriminate, especially against the LGBT community.

Justice Department officials say the analysis was produced to follow up on President Donald Trump's executive order on religious freedom in May, and they say it sets no new policies and isn't directly related to any pending legal dispute.

The new guidance says that the government can not place an undue burden on people or businesses because "the free exercise of religion includes the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one's religious beliefs".

Among other principles outlined in the memo, the Justice Department instructs that religious employers are entitled to employ those whose beliefs and actions align with their own religious beliefs, and also that "Americans do not give up their freedom of religion by participating in the marketplace, partaking of the public square, or interacting with government".

The policy says the mere claim that someone's religious freedom was violated is enough to override many anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people, women and others.

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That background memo insists the move 'does not authorize anyone to discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity in violation of federal law or change existing federal and state protections'.

In a statement on Friday, Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights, argued that the Sessions directive is "yet another mean-spirited attack against the LGBTQ community, people of color, and other minorities".

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.

Because of a new interim final rule announced October 6 by the Trump administration, clients of First Liberty are now exempt from the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate, which forced businesses, ministries, and other non-profit organizations to reject their religious beliefs and moral convictions or violate the law. But this is Donald Trump's fulfillment of a promise he made to Religious Right organizations both as a candidate and as president. The administration's new guidance also downplays harm to innocent third parties by someone acting on their religious belief.

Under the interim final rules released Friday, non-profits, small businesses, and even some publicly-traded companies can apply for a religious exemption to the mandate, if they establish that complying with the mandate would violate their religious beliefs. The AP calls it "an order that undercuts protections for LGBT people".

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That will protect Americans' freedom to live in a manner consistent with their faith without fear of government punishment, said Michael Farris, the president of the religious legal group Alliance Defending Freedom.

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. Unfortunately, to the extent that the guidance defines existing law as permitting discrimination, that is a meaningless assurance. Politico reports that the ACLU and California attorney general Xavier Becerra will sue to block the rules from going into effect, and you can expect their ultimate fate to be tied up in the court system for the foreseeable future.

For example, Sessions told Justice Department employees this week that a major federal civil rights law barring employers from sex discrimination does not offer protection to transgender people. "I would never use my faith to justify harm and discrimination to others like this country does to me".

Today the Trump-Pence administration launched an all-out assault on LGBTQ people, women, and other minority communities by unleashing a sweeping license to discriminate.

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