Sessions announces 'religious liberty task force'

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard Sessions5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony AG pick Barr emphasizes independence from Trump Hillicon Valley: Trump AG pick signals new scrutiny on tech giants | Wireless providers in new privacy storm | SEC brings charges in agency hack | Facebook to invest 0M in local news MORE announced Monday that the Department of Justice is creating a "religious liberty task force."

Sessions said the task force, co-chaired by Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio and the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Office of Legal Policy, Beth Williams, will help the department fully implement the religious liberty guidance it issued last year.

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The guidance was a byproduct of President TrumpDonald John TrumpVeterans groups demand end to shutdown: 'Get your act together' Brown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration Pence on border wall: Trump won't be ‘deterred’ by Dem ‘obstruction’ MORE’s executive order directing agencies to respect and protect religious liberty and political speech.

Sessions said on Monday that the task force will “ensure all Justice Department components are upholding that guidance in the cases they bring and defend, the arguments they make in court, the policies and regulations they adopt, and how we conduct our operations.”

The announcement came during the department’s religious liberty summit.

Sessions said the cultural climate in this country — and in the West more generally — has become less hospitable to people of faith in recent years, and as a result many Americans have felt their freedom to practice their faith has been under attack.

“We’ve seen nuns ordered to buy contraceptives. We’ve seen U.S. senators ask judicial and executive branch nominees about dogma—even though the Constitution explicitly forbids a religious test for public office. We’ve all seen the ordeal faced so bravely by Jack Phillips,” he said, referring to the Colorado baker who took his case to the Supreme Court after he was found to have violated the state’s anti-discrimination laws for refusing to make a cake for a same-sex wedding.

Sessions said the guidance he issued in October lays out 20 fundamental principles for the executive branch to follow, including the principles that free exercise means a right to act — or to abstain from action — and that government shouldn’t impugn people’s motives or beliefs.

“In short, we have not only the freedom to worship—but the right to exercise our faith. The Constitution’s protections don’t end at the parish parking lot nor can our freedoms be confined to our basements,” he said, according to his prepared remarks.

Sessions said the federal government under the Trump administration is not just reacting but is actively seeking to accommodate people of faith.

“Religious Americans are no longer an afterthought,” he said.