Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday announced the creation of a task force that would further institutional federal efforts to protect religious liberty.
“This administration is animated by that same American view that has led us for 242 years: that every American has a right to believe, worship, and exercise their faith in the public square,” Sessions said in a speech at the Justice Department.
“This approach has served this country well,” he said. “We are perhaps the most religiously developed nation in the world and can take pride in respecting all people as they fully exercise their faiths.
“It is clear that these policies have furthered peace, prosperity, freedom, lawfulness, and clarity.
“As our nation grows older, we must not let it depart from this magnificent tradition,” the attorney general said.
The Religious Liberty Task Force would be chaired by two leaders of the department’s Office of Legal Policy and seeks to further institutionalize the federal government’s efforts to accommodate those who claim their religious freedoms are being violated.
In October, Sessions released a 25-page memo that outlined 20 principles to remind agencies that religious freedom 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.”
The new initiative will seek to engage in expanding outreach to various groups and develop strategies — involving litigation, policy, and legislation — in seeking to protect religious freedom.
Sessions noted that the Justice Department was furthering a campaign promise by President Donald Trump and noted such actions as protecting the First Amendment rights of college students and backing the Little Sisters of the Poor in their lawsuits challenging the Obamacare contraception mandate.
He also cited the case of Jack Phillips, the Christian baker in Colorado whom the U.S. Supreme Court backed in June in his decision to refuse to make a wedding cake for a gay couple because of his religious beliefs.
“We have gotten to the point where courts have held that morality cannot be a basis for law,” Sessions said.
“Where ministers are fearful to affirm, as they understand it, holy writ from the pulpit, and where one group can actively target religious groups by labeling them a ‘hate group’ on the basis of their sincerely held religious beliefs.
“This president and this Department of Justice are determined to protect and even advance this magnificent heritage.”
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