The Associated Press reports:
In an order that undercuts federal protections for LGBT people, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a sweeping directive to agencies Friday to do as much as possible to accommodate those who claim their religious freedoms are being violated.
The guidance, an attempt to deliver on President Donald Trump’s pledge to his evangelical supporters that he would protect religious liberties, effectively lifts a burden from religious objectors to prove that their beliefs about marriage or other topics are sincerely held.
Under the new policy, a claim of a violation of religious freedom would be enough to override many anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people, women and others. The guidelines are so sweeping that experts on religious liberty are calling them a legal powder-keg that could prompt wide-ranging lawsuits against the government.
“This is putting the world on notice: You better take these claims seriously,” said Robin Fretwell Wilson, a law professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “This is a signal to the rest of these agencies to rethink the protections they have put in place on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
From the Human Rights Campaign:
“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 HRC President Chad Griffin. “This blatant attempt to further Donald Trump’s cynical and hateful agenda will enable systematic, government-wide discrimination that will have a devastating impact on LGBTQ people and their families. Donald Trump and Mike Pence have proven they will stop at nothing to target the LGBTQ community and drag our nation backwards. We will fight them every step of the way.”
“It’s unconscionable that the Trump-Pence administration also today encouraged employers to exert control over the essential health care decisions of their employees,” continued Griffin. “The rule change on contraception will undoubtedly limit access to vitally important care that women and so many in the LGBTQ community rely on every day. We each deserve to have the freedom to live and plan our lives with dignity, and this administration’s reckless efforts to undermine the health care of millions of Americans must be stopped.”
This guidance follows the anti-LGBTQ executive order signed by President Trump – which could ultimately allow a person to use so-called “religious exemptions” to discriminate against the LGBTQ community at the workplace, in housing, in public accommodations across the nation, and even in marriage equality. Today’s guidance bears a striking resemblance to some of Indiana’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA), an anti-LGBTQ measure Mike Pence signed into law when he was Indiana’s governor in 2015.
“Today’s guidance by Jeff Sessions proves this Administration will do anything possible to categorize LGBTQ Americans as second-class citizens who are not equal under the law,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, President and CEO of GLAAD. “Freedom of religion is paramount to our nation’s success, but does not give people the right to impose their beliefs on others, to harm others, or to discriminate. Nothing could be more un-American and unholy than using religion to justify harm and discrimination to others.”