For Immediate Release: October 6, 2017
Contact: Nicholas Little, Legal Director
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October 6, 2017
The Center for Inquiry expressed its deep concern over a memo issued today by Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III on behalf of the Department of Justice, entitled “Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty.” The memo puts at risk our historic ideal of an ordered, secular, neutral government, instead granting religiously motivated individuals, employers and businesses special exemptions from laws that apply to everyone else.
The memo prioritizes religious faith at every level of government action — granting religious individuals, organizations, and for-profit corporations unprecedented freedom to place their religious beliefs above the nation’s laws and the rights of other citizens, and even to be eligible to receive taxpayer funds for doing so. It was issued in accordance with President Trump’s instructions in his Executive Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty, signed May 4, 2017.
Sessions, during his confirmation hearing, told Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, that he was “not sure” whether a secular person has just as good a claim to understanding the truth as a person who is religious. Now, by giving religious people a pass to ignore duly passed laws that apply to all other Americans, Session demonstrates that he thinks religious claims override secular law.
“This is the payback for which the religious right has been waiting since their support was central to Trump’s victory. Under the interpretation of the law proposed by the Department of Justice, which has no founding in American constitutional jurisprudence, religious individuals as well as money-making businesses that claim any religious motivation, such as Hobby Lobby, will be free to claim exemptions from whole swathes of government restrictions – including not least any requirements to treat LGBTQ individuals on an equal basis to other citizens,” said Nick Little, Vice President and General Counsel of the Center for Inquiry. “This memorandum represents a license to discriminate, and must be opposed.”
The 25-page memorandum stresses that religious freedom must be interpreted as reaching far beyond the right to believe and worship as one sees fit. It describes such “freedom” as including the right to take actions and refuse to take actions, telegraphing the administration’s support for religious objectors such as Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis, who refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples, and wedding bakers, florists, and photographers who maintain that providing services to the LGBTQ community violates their religious beliefs. Moreover, it emphasizes that religious groups may receive funding from the government with no regards to their beliefs or practices, even if they are discriminatory.
“Allowing religious groups to discriminate in the provision of social services while at the same time giving them taxpayer funding is a recipe for social discord. It will pit people of various faiths and of no faith against one another in a fight over public dollars,” said Robyn Blumner, CFI’s President and CEO. “Sessions and the Trump administration apparently want to divide this country even further along its cultural fault lines.”
Blumner continued, “CFI will continue its fight to halt the spread of religiously based exemptions. We are a nation of laws, and all of us, religious groups included, live together under those laws.”