AG Jeff Sessions announces a ‘Religious Liberty Task Force’

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced this morning during a Religous Liberty Summit that the Department of Justice is creating a Religious Liberty Task Force. The directive of the task force is fulfilling the use of religious beliefs as a license to discriminate in employment, housing, business, and health care against LGBTQ people.

In Sessions’ announcement, he said that Donald Trump’s election had given the right a “rare opportunity” to stop a “dangerous movement, undetected by many” that is eroding religious freedom. Sessions also mentioned the task force, co-chaired by Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio, will help the department fully implement the religious liberty guidance it issued last year.

The Attorney General lamented the current political culture around the separation of church and state, including several mentions of Colorado baker Jack Phillips, with whom the administration sided in his case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Phillips argued the case infringed on his right to free speech.

For example, Sessions remarked about the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, “We’ve seen nuns ordered to buy contraceptives. We’ve seen U.S. senators ask judicial and executive branch nominees about dogma — even though the Constitution explicitly forbids a religious test for public office. We’ve all seen the ordeal faced so bravely by Jack Phillips.”

Furthermore, the task force will “continue the department’s ongoing work to protect and promote religious liberty.” It will also consider new initiatives, including engaging in outreach to the public, religious liberty communities, and religious liberty organizations, and developing new strategies involving litigation, policy, and legislation, all with the goal of ensuring the protection of this key, fundamental right, according to a memo obtained by the Washington Examiner.

In response to this morning’s announcement, the Democratic National Committee denounced the task force as “further proof that Republicans continue to push forward an agenda completely out of step with the American people and our values.”

DNC LGBTQ Media Director Lucas Acosta stated, “From supporting the right to refuse service to same-sex couples to banning military service by transgender individuals to removing mentions of LGBTQ issues from the White House website, Attorney General Sessions’ creation of a Religious Liberty Task Force is just the latest assault in this administration’s continued campaign against LGBTQ people and our civil rights.

“By creating this task force, Sessions is establishing a unit dedicated to undermining LGBTQ rights and giving anti-LGBTQ far-right extremists like task force head Jesse Panuccio a taxpayer-funded platform to push their anti-equality agenda. Rather than ensuring every person has equal protections and opportunities, Sessions is shamefully doubling down on bigotry.”

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