On July 30, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the creation of a “religious liberty task force” to forestall what he called a “dangerous moment” for religious freedom in the U.S. But Sessions isn’t defending freedom of religious beliefs, he’s defending freedom of bigoted beliefs masquerading as religion.
Sessions announced the program at the U.S. Justice Department offices in Washington, D.C., flanked by two representatives of hate: the conservative and virulently anti-LGBTQ Alliance Defending Freedom, and Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker whose refusal to serve a gay couple in violation of the state’s nondiscrimination law was recently vindicated by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Further, the task force will be co-chaired by Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio, who served as an attorney in 2010 for supporters of Proposition 8, California’s same-sex marriage ban.
“[I]n recent years, the cultural climate in this country – and in the West more generally – has become less hospitable to people of faith,” Sessions said. “Many Americans have felt that their freedom to practice their faith has been under attack.
“In short, we have not only the freedom to worship – but the right to exercise our faith.”
It’s difficult to imagine what sort of “attack” Sessions imagines “faith” to be under in the United States, when his own Justice Department has taken so many steps to safeguard the right of bigots to discriminate and spread their hate to a multitude of people, from LGBTQ people to Muslims, on the basis of “religious belief.” Meanwhile, under the rubric of religious beliefs, there is an all-out assault on the mere existence of transgender people as “perversions of God’s will.”
There are no laws that actually curtail practice of any Christian belief or worship.
So-called religious objection also underpins the continued assault on women’s bodily autonomy.
In October 2017, the Trump administration changed the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate to allow employers and insurers to invoke religious or moral beliefs to avoid the requirement that birth control pills and other contraceptives be covered by insurance. This mandate had already been assailed in the infamous “Hobby Lobby” Supreme Court decision which upheld the “religious beliefs” of a corporate entity and prioritized such “beliefs” over the health needs of women workers. Then in June, the Supreme Court sided with “faith-based” pregnancy centers by overturning a California law that required them to either disclose they were not state-certified or if certified, share information about state-funded programs that provide affordable or free birth control and abortion services.
Increasingly strict laws regulating abortion providers have been passed across the country at the state and local level under the false guise of preventing medical malpractice. In actuality, these “targeted regulation of abortion providers” or TARP laws are an attack on access to abortion by making it nearly impossible to run a clinic that provides abortion. What does it matter if abortion is still technically legal if there are no clinics that can legally provide this medically necessary procedure?
Is Sessions going to fight for religious freedom for Muslims?
It doesn’t take a leap of faith (!) to imagine that Sessions’ task force of hate won’t lift a finger to protect the rights of religious minorities like Muslims to practice their religion, or that it will ever lend an ear to Native people objecting to the desecration of their sacred lands by the mining and timber industries.
Instead, we see towns driven by the xenophobia whipped up by racist conservatives like Sessions, passing “anti-Sharia” laws ensuring that Muslim religious law never finds acceptance in America and that Muslims remain a permanent “other,” not protected by the religious privileges enjoyed by Christians. Of course, such laws reflect a completely counterfactual understanding of what “Sharia law” actually is!
The religious liberty task force is playing to anti-LGBTQ bigots and misogynists, justifying a renewed assault on oppressed people while pretending to safeguard essential civil rights.