Sessions ends transgender workplace protections

The memo itself does not specifically reference gay or transgender people, but given that its instructions are about how Department of Justice agencies should take religious freedom issues in mind when enforcing laws, contracting, and distributing grants, there was an immediate concern from LGBT activist groups and allies that this was the "permission to discriminate" they've suspected the administration had been planning all along, but had not yet come.

The guidance explains that RFRA "applies to all sincerely-held religious beliefs", and the government does not have the authority to second-guess the reasonableness of a religious conviction.

Numerous current conflicts in the religious sphere concern civil rights for lesbians, gays and transgender people _ for instance, whether religious organizations can refuse to employ people due to their sexual identification. "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".

Legal organizations likely will file lawsuits over the guidance for compromising the rights of LGBT people and others. Since then, religious conservatives have anxiously awaited the Justice Department guidance, hoping for greatly strengthened protections for their beliefs amid the rapid acceptance of LGBT rights.

"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 Washington Blade notes Sessions issued three memos - one to administrative agencies, another to Justice Department attorneys, and one providing background.

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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". As it turns out, this sweeping declaration is not some banal, symbolic, academic labor of love, but is instead a carefully-constructed justification for the administration's decision to extend legal protections to sex discrimination.

The administration first announced on Friday an expansion of religious and moral exemptions to the HHS contraceptive mandate, over which many non-profit groups and some for-profit businesses had sued the federal government.

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. "President Trump and the Department of Justice are putting federal government agencies on notice: you will not only respect the freedom of every American to believe but live according to those beliefs".

On the contaceptive exemption, for example, the Obama administration tried twice to draw up guidelines that they believed would give religious organizations a "work around" for their consciences by allowing them to have insurance companies pay for contraception coverage - as if someone can "work around" their most cherished religious beliefs. Sessions told the nation's federal prosecutors in a Thursday memo that they would be evaluated regularly based on their commitment to Project Safe Neighborhoods, which also emphasizes partnerships among local law enforcement and community groups. The AP calls it "an order that undercuts protections for LGBT people".

The Becket Fund, a religious freedom law firm that defended the Little Sisters of the Poor in court against the mandate, praised the "common sense, balanced rule", but added that the litigation is ongoing in mandate cases. "The White House says the guidance "does not authorize anyone to discriminate" - and Lambda Legal will make sure it doesn't". Less than a day after Attorney General Jeff Session reversed Obama-era protections against workplace discrimination for transgender people, he's decided that when it rains bigotry, it pours bigotry.

"Nothing could be more un-American and unholy than using religion to justify harm and discrimination to others".

  • Megan Austin