Speaking at the Justice Department's so-called Religious Liberty Summit in Washington—an event described as "one-sided and stacked" with fervently anti-gay spokespeople of the Christian right—Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday announced the creation of a "Religious Liberty Task Force" that critics said is little more than a "license to discriminate against women, LGBTQ people, immigrants, communities of color, and so many more."
"I highly doubt that Sessions and this administration, who fought to ban Muslims from this country, value 'religious liberty' at all. They believe in and prop up a false, zero-sum world where the expansion of one's rights must come at the cost of another's."
"The event was clearly designed to advance the Trump administration's twisted and dangerous view of religious freedom, one that uses religion to discriminate and harm others," Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said in a statement following Sessions' remarks. "This event exposed the administration's real agenda: to preserve the power of Christian fundamentalists."
While Sessions alluded to some the Justice Department's actions undertaken defense of the rights of Muslims, Hindus, and other religious believers in an effort to portray his "task force" as a neutral defender of the liberties of all, the overwhelmingly Christian audience at Monday's summit, the content of Sessions' speech, and the White House's close ties to the Christian right put the lie to this notion.
"Americans from a wide variety of backgrounds are concerned about what this changing cultural climate means for the future of religious liberty in this country," Sessions asserted before praising Jack Phillips, the right-wing Christian baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
As many commentators pointed out in response to attorney general's comments, the same president who Sessions claimed "respected people of faith" during the 2016 presidential campaign also called for a "total ban on Muslims entering the United States" and—thanks to America's right-wing Supreme Court—has succeeded in implementing and upholding his seven-nation Muslim ban.
"I highly doubt that Sessions and this administration, who fought to ban Muslims from this country, value 'religious liberty' at all," New York congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter. "They believe in and prop up a false, zero-sum world where the expansion of one's rights must come at the cost of another's. Vote them out in November."
DOJ should be working to fight discrimination and protect the rights of vulnerable communities. Instead, Jeff Sessions is launching a Religious Liberty Task Force to make it easier for people to use religion to mask their discriminatory goals. Shameful.https://t.co/fCGp3DKIzh— Kristen Clarke (@KristenClarkeJD) July 30, 2018
Hi, Religious Liberty Task Force, I'd like to report a President that tried to ban Muslims from the US? You might wanna look into that.— Evan Greer (@evan_greer) July 30, 2018
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Reproductive rights advocates are also raising alarm at Sessions' new initiative—arguing that it will subordinate the needs of women and other minority groups to the agendas of the right-wing Christian extremists who dominate Trump's cabinet.
"Make no mistake—this 'Religious Liberty Task Force' is another extremist attempt to deny people the care and services that they need," NARAL Pro-Choice America declared in a tweet following Sessions' speech. "The Trump administration is out to refuse abortion care, birth control access, and LGBTQ-inclusive care to the American people."
Let's be real about this "Religious Liberty Task Force." What the administration — which also adopted a Muslim ban — desires isn’t “religious liberty.” It's another license to discriminate against women, LGBTQ people, immigrants, communities of color, and so many more. https://t.co/y6DTe9peTb— Planned Parenthood Action (@PPact) July 30, 2018
Sessions' new task force—which he says will be focused on carrying out President Donald Trump's "religious freedom" executive order from last year—will be co-chaired by Acting Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio, who previously worked as a lawyer for supporter for California's Proposition 8, the state's ban on same-sex marriage that was deemed unconstitutional in 2013.