This Friday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a “sweeping memo” directing government agencies to give broad protections for religious groups and individuals to exercise their belief systems, even when it flies in the face of government regulations.
From USA Today:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ directive fleshes out an executive order issued by President Trump earlier this year that had targeted in particular a provision of tax law prohibiting churches from direct involvement in political campaigns, a point that has chafed some evangelical activists.
“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,” Sessions 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.”
Sessions’ memo doesn’t create any new laws, but critics argue that it opens up interpretations that could violate the civil rights of LGBT people, and even women, since denying employment to a person simply because of their gender or sexual orientation could easily be seen as an exercise of “religious freedom.”
“The free exercise of religion includes the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one’s religious beliefs,” Sessions’ memo says.
The memo outlines 20 “principles” that allows employers to hire only “persons whose belief and conduct are consistent with the employer’s religious precepts.” As VICE’s Alex Lubben points out, that means “an employer could fire a gay person, or a single mother, because their actions don’t fit with their religious outlook.”
Sessions’ memo comes as the Trump administration shifts towards rolling back Obama-era protections against civil rights violations against LGBT people. This Friday, the Department of Heath and Human Services abandoned the mandate requiring employers to include coverage of birth control costs in their heath insurance programs. Also, in early September the Justice Department ruled in favor of an Indiana baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
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