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Is the Trump Administration Using Religion to Allow Discrimination?
08 October 2017, 12:30 | Tara Lloyd
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The Establishment Clause is an integral part of protecting religious liberty: The Framers of the Constitution understood that there is, in fact, no religious freedom where a government is allowed to impose religion on its people.
Regarding its application to federal contracts, the guidance could influence cases where religious charities are in danger of losing federal contracts due to their employment practices or their religious mission. Senators who care about civil rights must press Attorney General Sessions on this issue when he appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee in two weeks. "Except in the narrowest circumstances, no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law".
"Today's guidance by Jeff Sessions proves this administration will do anything possible to categorize LGBTQ Americans as second-class citizens who are not equal under the law", Sarah Kate Ellis, president of LGBT advocacy group GLADD, said in a statement.
"Under this guidance, federal agencies, government employees, contractors and grantees can take federal funds and discriminate at will, and the federal government will do nothing to stop it", Winnie Stachelberg, an executive vice president at the liberal Center for American Progress, said on a conference call. The idea that the federal civil rights law protects people only from discrimination on the basis of biological sex is flatly contradicted by U.S Supreme Court rulings.
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Sessions' directive, obtained by BuzzFeed News, says, "Title VII's prohibition on sex discrimination encompasses discrimination between men and women but does not encompass discrimination based on gender identity per se, including transgender status". The administration had allowed some religious organizations to opt out of the contraceptive requirement, but the religious groups said that the exemption process didn't go far enough.
Also on Friday, the Department of Justice announced a religious freedom guidance that was ordered by President Trump in his May 4 executive order on religious freedom. The government's compelling interest in enforcing these laws should mean the businesses lose their arguments - but the Department of Justice guidance suggests that the interest in ending discrimination against LGBT people isn't actually all that important.
"The Free Exercise Clause protects not just the right to believe or the right to worship; it protects the right to perform or abstain from performing certain physical acts in accordance with one's beliefs", Sessions wrote in the 25-page document.
Although the memo asserts the change won't enable anti-LGBT discrimination under the law, that language is found no where as a limiting principle in the memos themselves. "TLDEF will continue to stand up for our community and fight to ensure that transgender people are protected against sex discrimination". "I look forward to working with the U.S. Attorney's office to reinvigorate Project Safe Neighborhood, cracking down on violent offenders and removing them from Montana communities".
The memo says it should not be construed to condone mistreatment on the basis of gender identity, or to express a policy view on whether Congress should amend Title VII to provide additional protections.
ADF lawyers have argued several cases before the Supreme Court and are now representing Colorado baker Jack Phillips, who is challenging the state's nondiscrimination protections after he was found in violation of the law for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple in 2012. From banning transgender servicemembers to dismantling protections for transgender students, this Administration has consistently and cruelly put prejudice and bigotry before the civil rights of the American people.
- Arguing in court that firing an employee for being gay was justified.
Many other states have passed similar religious freedom bills.
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