The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released new guidance Monday that affirms the agency will protect religious freedom and will not discriminate against any American based on faith beliefs regarding marriage and sexuality.
The guidance, titled “First Amendment and Religious Beliefs: Questions and Answers,” states:
Opinions about same-sex marriage, gender identity, and sexual morality are all matters of public importance. Moreover, people often have different perspectives on these topics, which are sometimes informed by their religious beliefs, and feel the need to discuss them. USDA respects the First Amendment rights of USDA personnel, as well as non-USDA personnel working at facilities inspected by USDA, to share their varying viewpoints on these topics, whether through oral discussion, the display or distribution of literature, or other means.
While the guidance does include “gender identity” as a “matter of public importance,” the language resolves the case of Don Vander Boon, A Christian owner of private company West Michigan Beef Company, who was threatened two years ago with a shut-down of his meat-packing business by USDA inspectors because his break room contained an article promoting traditional marriage mixed in with others about the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision.
Vander Boon said USDA inspectors – who worked daily in his meat-packing facility – removed the article about traditional marriage and confronted him with it in his office, threatening to pull out of his facility, a situation that would immediately cause his business to shut down.
In a policy statement, Perdue said:
I expect each and every USDA employee to uphold their fellow Americans’ First Amendment freedoms. Whether we are inspecting private businesses for compliance with food safety laws or protecting our public lands for recreation, cultivation, and preservation, we must set the example of our Nation’s highest ideals. Doing so is not optional, and it is not discretionary: It is one of the crucial reasons why we exist.
Family Research Council (FRC) praised the USDA’s new guidance.
“I commend Secretary Perdue for correcting an injustice committed under the Obama administration against this family owned meatpacking business,” said Travis Weber, FRC Director of the Center for Religious Liberty. “We thank President Trump who signed the executive order on religious freedom making clear that Americans … don’t lose their religious freedoms upon entering the public square.”