Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Monday that a “dangerous movement” in the United States is threatening the religious freedom of the American people, and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is putting in place policies to address the threat and protect people of faith.
“Let us be frank,” Sessions said at the Religious Liberty Summit at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. “A dangerous movement, undetected by many, is now challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom.”
“There can be no doubt,” Sessions said. “This is no little matter. It must be confronted and defeated.”
Sessions said President Donald Trump’s election had provided the opportunity to do just that, but his administration must be vigilant to recognize the efforts to thwart religious freedom. Sessions said:
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. This President and this Department of Justice are determined to protect and even advance this magnificent heritage.
The first step, Sessions said, was Trump instructing the DOJ to provide guidance to all government agencies for “interpreting religious liberty protections in federal law” and that the effort continues.
“Today I am announcing our next step: the Religious Liberty Task Force, to be co-chaired by the Associate Attorney General and the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy,” Sessions said.
“The task force 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,” Sessions said.
“That includes making sure that our employees know their duties to accommodate people of faith,” Sessions said.
The guidance and now the task force are vital, Sessions said, because it is people of faith who contribute the most to the country’s well-being.
“There can be no doubt that we are stronger as a nation because of the contribution of religious Americans,” Sessions said. “Every day across America, they feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, educate our young people, and care for the sick. They do so not because the government tells them to, but because they want to. They do these things because of their faith.”
“Their faith provides something the state can never provide—meaning and purpose and joy in their life,” Sessions said.
The event also featured speakers and panelists sharing their experiences of facing threats to their religious freedom, including Alliance Defending Freedom client Jack Phillips, plaintiff in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission; Derrick Max, executive director and principal of Cornerstone Schools of Washington, D.C.; Kelly Clemente of Bethany Christian Services; Rabbi Ruvi New of Chabad of East Boca Raton; and Dr. Harpreet Singh, MASSAH, Community Relations Service, DOJ.
“As the people in this room know, you have to practice what you preach. We are also going to remain in contact with religious groups across America to ensure that their rights are being protected,” Sessions said. “We have been holding listening sessions, and we will continue to host them in the coming weeks.”
“This administration is animated by that same American view that has led us for 242 years: that every American has a right to believe, worship, and exercise their faith in the public square,” Session said.
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