Without much fanfare late last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued an addendum to the US Attorneys’ Manual: 1-15.000 – Respect for Religious Liberty, which clearly lacks all respect for the 1st Amendment. The document, which seems to be flying under the radar, is just now getting attention from the American Atheists and other progressive bloggers.
It is worth reviewing the policy in depth, but for now, let me just point out a few of the dangerous statements that were made. Of critical importance was the requirement that each of the 93 regional US Attorney offices (which including our local office in Western PA) must assign member to “to coordinate religious liberty litigation issues” at the cost of ignoring other issues. The document goes on to state that
Under certain conditions
the Internal Revenue Service may not enforce the Johnson Amendment—which prohibits 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations from intervening in a political campaign on behalf of a candidate.
The free exercise of religion includes the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one’s religious beliefs.
The Free Exercise Clause protects not just the right to believe or the right to worship; it protects the right to perform or abstain from performing certain physical acts in accordance with one’s beliefs. Federal statutes, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (“RFRA”), support that protection, broadly defining the exercise of religion to encompass all aspects of observance and practice, whether or not central to, or required by, a particular religious faith.
The freedom of religion extends to persons and organizations.
The Free Exercise Clause protects not just persons, but persons collectively exercising their religion through churches or other religious denominations, religious organizations, schools, private associations, and even businesses.
Americans do not give up their freedom of religion by participating in the marketplace, partaking of the public square, or interacting with government. …. Although the application of the relevant protections may differ in different contexts, individuals and organizations do not give up their religious-liberty protections by providing or receiving social services, education, or healthcare; by seeking to earn or earning a living; by employing others to do the same; by receiving government grants or contracts; or by otherwise interacting with federal, state, or local governments
I would beg to differ. If you are Amish and your religion tells you not to drive motorized vehicles then perhaps “school bus driver” is not the best job for you. Likewise, if you bake wedding cakes out of your storefront business, then current anti-discrimination laws say you need to bake cakes for all customers or close up the storefront.
The point is once you give a blanket pass for religious views in a pluralistic society, one be concerned about just how far could you legally move the bar. It is worth recalling that interracial marriage was banned in Virginia for religious reasons as recently as 1967. That Virginia statute was overturned by the Supreme Court, just as same-sex weddings are now legal in the US as a result of the 2015 Supreme ruling, Obergefell v. Hodges.
However, by the wording in Jeff Session’s memo any hotel owner or restaurateur could say “I don’t care about the law. We don’t serve interracial couples for religious reasons”, as was documented in the powerful 2016 movie Loving. Under the Session’s memo, there is no bound to the discrimination that might occur.
The simple point is that we have laws and courts for good reasons. We have a separation of church and state for good reasons. To blur the line between church and state should not be done by the stroke of a pen, especially the pen of the leading law enforcement official in Washington.
As pointed out at the Progressive Secular Humanist blog:
Under guidance from the Trump administration, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is quietly installing “religious freedom” czars in every U.S. Attorney’s office. And the country continues to march towards a Christian theocracy.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who charged with enforcing laws, has published a new policy (1-15.000 – Respect For Religious Liberty) that is confused, misguided, foolish and wrong. The United States is a much more dangerous place when basic civil rights are overturned by the theological zealots.