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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 3, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 31
Jeff Sessions launches 'Religious Liberty Task Force'
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Jeff Sessions launches 'Religious Liberty Task Force'

Alliance Defending Freedom instigated the move, reports say

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

At the so-called 'Religious Liberty Summit' on July 30, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that his Department of Justice (DOJ) would create a special task force to 'protect and promote religious liberty.'

Speaking from DOJ headquarters in DC, Sessions said he will chair the task force, which will implement the 'religious liberty' memo he signed in October 2017.

That 25-page memo outlines 20 guiding principles that federal agencies can use to protect religious liberty in employment, contracting, and programming. The new task force will enforce compliance with the October memo, address new or recurring issues that arise from implementation of the memo, and facilitate interagency coordination regarding the memo.

Sessions made his announcement at a summit panel moderated by DOJ media affairs specialist Kerri Kupec, raising questions about the involvement of the notoriously anti-LGBT legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) in his decision to launch the task force.

Kupec worked at the ADF for four years before joining the DOJ in January this year. In his statement, Sessions said that the DOJ had 'been holding listening sessions' with 'religious groups across America.' The ADF has previously acknowledged participating in such talks.

Sessions and his boss, Donald Trump, have been closely aligned with extreme anti-LGBTQ groups, and with ADF in particular. Sessions' DOJ issued an unusual brief on behalf of the ADF's client, Jack Phillips, the plaintiff in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. ADF alumni and allies have also been hired by various federal agencies and nominated for federal judgeships.

In his remarks to the summit, Sessions explicitly said that Trump's election opened opportunities to reverse pro-LGBT laws and federal regulations.

'A dangerous movement, undetected by many, is now challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom,' Sessions said.

'There can be no doubt. This is no little matter. It must be confronted and defeated. This election, and much that has flowed from it, gives us a rare opportunity to arrest these trends. Such a reversal will not just be done with electoral victories, but by intellectual victories.'

According to a new research book by Media Matters, the ADF holds many extreme anti-LGBT positions on nearly every aspect of life, advocating laws that would punish sodomy by imprisonment, support for Russia's 'Don't Say Gay' law, and pushing the discredited practice of conversion therapy.

The group is in many ways the most influential group working to roll back LGBT rights, frequently targeting basic protections for Transgender students and pushing religious exemptions policies.

Sessions' move was hailed by another powerful anti-LGBT group, the Liberty Counsel, an offshoot of Liberty University Law School.

'The establishment of a Religious Liberty Task Force is an historic and positive step by the Trump administration to protect religious freedom and the rights of conscience,' Liberty Counsel President Matt Staver said in a statement.

'Today's announcement by the Department of Justice is encouraging, and the Trump administration is to be commended for making this 180-degree turn from the past administration, which used the federal government to violate religious freedom and conscience rather than protecting our first freedom. This task force sends a strong message that there is a commitment to protecting religious freedom.'

The Democratic National Committee, on the other hand, condemned Sessions' task force.

'By creating this task force, Sessions is establishing a unit dedicated to undermining LGBTQ rights and giving anti-LGBTQ far-right extremists like task force head Jesse Panuccio a taxpayer-funded platform to push their anti-equality agenda. Rather than ensuring every person has equal protections and opportunities, Sessions is shamefully doubling down on bigotry,' DNC LGBTQ media director Lucas Acosta said.

'This action is further proof that Republicans continue to push forward an agenda completely out of step with the American people and our values. Democrats will continue to focus on how to improve opportunity for all Americans regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or income.'

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