Justice Department issues new 'religious freedom' memo that invites anti-LGBTQ discrimination


US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has reversed a federal government policy that said transgender workers were protected from discrimination under a 1964 civil rights law, according to a memo on Wednesday sent to agency heads and US attorneys.

Sessions said in a statement his action - which consists of a memo to administrative agencies, and another memo to Justice Department attorneys - would enhance the bedrock principle in the United States of religious freedom.

Among other thing, the guidance adopts certain aspects of the so-called First Amendment Defense Act (FADA)-a key legislative priority of the Religious Right- as administration policy.

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He additionally explained that the government can not compel a person or organization to act contrary to their religion, stating that "a government action that bans an aspect of an adherent's religious observance or practice, compels an act inconsistent with that observance or practice, will qualify as a substantial burden on the exercise of religion". The Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies have given the green light to employers to claim religious or moral objection to providing their employees with birth control. It instructs the department to vigorously defend religious-liberty protections in federal law.

Justice Department officials say the analysis was produced to follow up on President Donald Trump's executive order on religious freedom in May, and they say it sets no new policies and isn't directly related to any pending legal dispute.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that requiring family-owned corporations to pay for insurance coverage for contraception under the Affordable Care Act violated a federal law protecting religious freedom. That assurance is left out in important passages asserting the primacy of religious freedom that could be construed to allow anti-LGBT discrimination. It also says the government can not enforce the so-called Johnson Amendment, which threatens to strip tax-exempt status from religious groups that engaged in political advocacy.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent a memo to USA attorneys offices telling them that, in his estimation, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not prohibit employment discrimination based on gender identity. A simple claim of a violation of religious freedom would be enough to "override concerns for the civil rights of LGBT people and anti-discrimination protections for women and others".

RFRA does not permit the federal government to second-guess the reasonableness of a sincerely held religious belief.

"Today the Trump-Pence administration launched an all-out assault on LGBTQ people, women and other minority communities by unleashing a sweeping license to discriminate", said Griffin in a statement.

The attorney general will also issue a memorandum to all divisions and offices within the U.S. Department of Justice on how to implement and enforce these religious-liberty protections.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday the expansion of programs aimed to crackdown on violent crime and drug trafficking and also vowed to expedite the process for tracing guns used in shootings. "This is a freedom that has been a fundamental part of our society since the beginning of our nation".

Sessions' memo explains Title VII expressly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex but makes no reference to gender, and that courts have interpreted "sex" to mean biologically male or female.

"Under this guidance, federal agencies, government employees, contractors and grantees can take federal funds and discriminate at will, and the federal government will do nothing to stop it", Winnie Stachelberg, an executive vice president at the liberal Center for American Progress, said on a conference call.