Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued guidance today setting forth the views of the Department of Justice about how federal agencies should protect religious freedom.
The guidance directs agencies to give the broadest possible protection to people, companies and government contractors who cite religious beliefs to avoid compliance with anti-discrimination and other laws.
This latest memo reflects the Trump administration’s continuing campaign to roll back the rights of the most vulnerable members of society, including LGBT people. By saying virtually nothing about how the invocation of religious exemptions can cause real harm to real people, it invites taxpayer-funded agencies, government employees, government contractors and government grant recipients to discriminate against LGBT people, as long as they cite a religious reason for doing so.
Religious freedom is a treasured right in our country, and it should never be used as a guise for harming others. The guidance memo ignores this competing American value – that in exercising our rights we must and should account for the rights and well-being of others. Freedom of religion does not give us the right to impose our beliefs on others, or to discriminate.
The clear intent of this guidance is to undermine the many gains LGBT Americans and others have achieved in securing dignity and equality for themselves and their families. It is motivated by the false notion that LGBT rights, reproductive rights and other rights have come at the expense of religious liberties, an idea that is an affront to the millions of Americans of faith who reject discrimination against all people, including LGBT people. It does not reflect who we are as a nation, with a clear majority of Americans supporting laws that protect LGBT people from unequal treatment.
As with so many of the Trump administration’s actions, this guidance is intended to and will encourage federal agencies to ignore the rights of vulnerable communities. But this administration cannot turn our collective hearts against our fellow Americans. We will resist this guidance and all that it stands for, and we will continue to fight for the rights and dignity of LGBT people across our nation.