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Sessions issues religious liberty guidance to agencies
Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued legal guidance Friday directing federal agencies on how to protect religious liberty in employment, contracting and programming as they execute federal laws.
The guidance follows President Trump's May 4 executive order directing the agencies to respect and protect religious liberty and political speech, made by both individuals and organizations.
The 25-page memo maps out 20 guiding principles reminding agencies that freedom of religion is a fundamental right and that the free exercise of religion "includes the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one's religious beliefs."
"As President Trump said, 'Faith is deeply embedded into the history of our country, the spirit of our founding and the soul of our nation ... [this administration] will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore,'" Sessions said in a statement.
"The constitutional protection of religious beliefs and the right to exercise those beliefs have served this country well, have made us one of the most tolerant countries in the world, and have also helped make us the freeist and most generous."
Among the principles outlined in the guidance is that certain religious organizations are entitled to hire only people whose beliefs and conduct are "consistent with their employers' religious precepts."
It states as an example that a Lutheran school may choose to employ only practicing Lutherans, only practicing Christians or only those who adhere to a code of conduct consistent with the precepts of the Lutheran community sponsoring the school.
It also said religious organizations may be exempt from following certain discrimination laws if doing so would conflict with the organization's religious principles.
This would appear to suggest support for allowing religious organizations to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The memo claimed that the government can likely prohibit religious groups from discriminating on the basis of race but may not be able to prohibit other forms of discrimination.
It did not specify what forms of discrimination might be allowed.
"Supreme Court has held that the government's interest in addressing sexual-orientation discrimination is not sufficiently compelling to justify an infringement on the expressive association rights of a private organization."
Sessions also sent a memo to the Department of Justice, directing all United States Attorney's Offices to immediately begin incorporating the guidance in "litigation strategy and arguments, operations, grant administration, and all other aspects of the department's work."
The guidance is being issued the same day the administration announced it was ending ObamaCare's birth control mandate requiring employers to provide birth control as part of their health insurance.
Trump during last year's campaign promised to end the mandate, which conservatives argued infringed on the rights on religious people and organizations that do not want to pay for birth control.