Sessions releases guidance memos on 'religious freedom' & it targets your rights

"This guidance does not resolve any specific cases; it offers guidance on existing protections for religious liberty in federal law", the Justice Department said in a statement.

The guidelines are seen as potentially undermining protections for LGBTI people since religious freedom is often used as a justification for LGBTI discrimination.

Because of a new interim final rule announced October 6 by the Trump administration, clients of First Liberty are now exempt from the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate, which forced businesses, ministries, and other non-profit organizations to reject their religious beliefs and moral convictions or violate the law. Tony Perkins, head of the conservative Family Research Council, in a statement lauding Trump, said his group has set up a hot line for federal employees and others who feel they've faced discrimination over their religious beliefs.

The Midstate LGBT community said the move was another setback, as they're now fighting for Pennsylvania to include sexual orientation and gender identity as sex discrimination.

"This is a direct attack on women's rights", said Vanita Gupta, president and chief executive of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

President Trump signed Executive Order 13798 on May 4 to declare the policy of the United States government regarding religious liberty under the U.S. Constitution and federal law, the first such order in American history.

With the HHS announcement, the government now "admits the prior version of the mandate broke the law", Rienzi said, referring to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. But the 17-page appendix setting forth the DOJ's analysis of federal "religious liberty" law devotes just one short paragraph to the Establishment Clause. But critics say the guidance could undermine protections for the LGBT community.

Sessions' memo rescinds a 2014 memo issued by then-attorney General Eric Holder that concluded that Title VII does protect transgender people.

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"Although the application of the relevant protections may differ in different contexts, individuals and organizations do not give up their religious-liberty protections by providing or receiving social services, education or healthcare; by seeking to earn a living; by employing others to do the same; by receiving government grants or contracts; or by otherwise interacting with federal, state or local governments", the guidance explains.

Sessions' guidelines comes on the same day that the Trump administration ended a provision of the Affordable Care Act requiring businesses to include birth control as part of insurance coverage. The memo states the Trump administration "will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied, or silenced anymore".

As an example, a baker may not be able to discriminate against gays who patronize his establishment, but could invoke a religious exemption if he is asked to bake a cake for a gay wedding.

It's actually not terribly clear, though, that this memo makes much of a difference in how the current Justice Department will tackle LGBT discrimination issues because of how it is already tackling LGBT issues.

Among other thing, the guidance adopts certain aspects of the so-called First Amendment Defense Act (FADA)-a key legislative priority of the Religious Right- as administration policy. "Freedom of religion is paramount to our nation's success, but does give people the right to impose their beliefs on others, to harm other, or to discriminate".

Trump's order is being challenged in court, though some religious activists and experts have said it was more symbolic than practically meaningful. The Sessions Department of Justice is now putting those persons at the greatest risk of losing their jobs or homes.

"In a memorandum released to all U.S. Attorneys ("Revised Treatment of Transgender Employment Discrimination Claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964"), Sessions stated that "... We will fight them every step of the way'.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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