And Justice For All? … U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions Announces Department of Justice “Religious Liberty Task Force”

On Monday in a move which appears to be a culmination of events starting with President Trump’s May 2017 executive order, via NPR, “that directs the executive branch to honor and enforce already existing religious protections,” followed later in October by AG Sessions issuing new guidelines, across government, via USA Today, “aimed at giving religious groups and individuals,” more freedom to express their religious beliefs, the United States Department of Justice hosted what they called the “Department of Justice’s Religious Liberty Summit” in Washington, D.C. where U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the creation of a “Religious Liberty Task Force”.

The task force will be headed by Associate AG Jesse Panuccio and Beth Williams, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy “and will help the department fully implement the religious liberty guidance it issued last year”

The Hill said, that according to Sessions the task force will “ensure 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 stated in his speech at the summit that:

A dangerous movement, undetected by many, is now challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom. There can be no doubt. This is no little matter. It must be confronted and defeated.

This election, and much that has flowed from it, gives us a rare opportunity to arrest these trends.  Such a reversal will not just be done with electoral victories, but by intellectual victories.

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.

The DOJ’s summit was live streamed on C-SPAN with remarks also delivered by DAG Rod Rosenstein and Senator James Lankford (R-OK), with a discussions panel which included Rabbi Ruvi New, Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cake Shop, Harpreet Singh Mokha – National Director of Community Outreach at DOJ, Kelly Clemente, and Derrik Max – Co-founder of Cornerstone Schools who discussed “religious liberty in their own lives and in their own communities.”

Why this Matters:

We’ll see if it does. What basically happened Monday was a continuation of what happened with Trump’s May 2017 EO which the ACLU who was primed to sue the administration over it once they realized it was nothing more than a publicity stunt at the time. But as there seems to be a slow walk here first with Sessions “new guidelines” last October where he stated “Except in the narrowest of circumstances, no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law,” the attorney general wrote. “To the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, religious observance and practice should be reasonably accommodated in all government action, including employment, contracting and programming” and now this task force we may see a ramping up of what this administration really plans to do going forward.

At this point it’s too early to call where or how far they’ll go even as those opposed are already in a tizzy over it as twitter lit up and this Daily Beast opinion piece titled, Jeff Sessions’ ‘Religious Liberty Task Force’ Declares Holy War on LGBT People implies. This is definitely going to be one to watch closely.

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