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Justice Department issues policy memo declaring religious freedom 'paramount' in US

Justice Department issues policy memo declaring religious freedom 'paramount' in US”

Today, he issues a sweeping memo that instructs agencies to do as much as possible to protect the religious liberty of individuals and employers-civil rights for gay people be damned.

"I commend the president for taking another step to honor his campaign promise to make religious liberty his "first priority" by directing the Department of Justice to issue this guidance, which simply directs the federal government to adhere to its legal and constitutional obligation to respect existing religious freedom protections", wrote Farris in a statement. "The guidelines are so sweeping that experts on religious liberty are calling them a legal powder-keg that could prompt wide-ranging lawsuits against the government".

Though the principles are lofty - and some of them in no way objectionable - they could have broad negative impact, permitting religious groups to impinge on the rights of LGBT people and others, civil liberties advocates said.

A background memo accompanying the new guidance insists the move "does not authorize anyone to discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity in violation of federal law or change existing federal and state protections".

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The right to free exercise of one's faith is good and important and valuable, sure, but in this context, the interpretation of that right has serious consequences for other rights, too.

However, the legal memo suggests that the government's legal authority to forbid racial discrimination may not be as strong as its authority to target other forms of discrimination, such as bias against women or LGBT individuals. The Trump administration pitches its rules weakening the birth control coverage mandate as policies that give voice to a purportedly "silenced" group. And the funeral home now arguing in federal court that it has a right to fire an employee because she's transgender could have a free pass to discriminate because of its religious beliefs.

Critics said the guidance could result in LGBT individuals, women or others facing discrimination in federal programs.

The Justice Department consulted with the Mormon Church, the Alliance Defending Freedom, and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops when crafting the guidance, all of whom have a history of opposing LGBTQ rights.

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"This license-to-discriminate memo invites illegal discrimination on a chilling new scale and attempts to open the door for carving certain communities, including transgender people, out of basic protections guaranteed by law", he said.

Elsewhere, the memo asserts that religious groups "generally may not be required to alter their religious character to participate in a government program". The AP calls it "an order that undercuts protections for LGBT people". Its bold language highlights the crucial role of religious freedom in American life. Sessions told the nation's federal prosecutors in a Thursday memo that they would be evaluated regularly based on their commitment to Project Safe Neighborhoods, which also emphasizes partnerships among local law enforcement and community groups. The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to review the Phillips case. The SPLC said ADF "works to develop "religious liberty" legislation and case law that will allow the denial of good and services to LGBT people on the basis of relgion" and "has supported the recminalization of homosexuality in the USA and criminalization overseas". Sessions explained while Title VII prohibits "sex-stereotypes", insofar as that sort of sex-based consideration causes disparate treatment between men and women, Title VII is not properly construed to proscribe employment practices that take into account the sex of employees, but do not impose different burdens on similarly situated members of each sex.

The memo makes clear the Justice Department's support of that opinion in noting that the primary religious freedom law - the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 - protects the rights not only of people to worship as they choose but also of corporations, companies and private firms.

"This discrimination is not an American value. Nothing could be more un-American and unholy that using religion to justify harm and discrimination to others".

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