Jeff Sessions creates 'religious liberty task force' to protect bigots


Jeff Sessions says it's about protecting religious liberty, but it's really about protecting discrimination.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a cynical new way for the Justice Department to further Trump's extremist agenda, with the creation of a "religious liberty task force."

But for an administration that introduced a ban on Muslims in its first week and has praised Nazis as "very fine people," anyone who thinks this task force will actually stand up for the First Amendment rights of all Americans might want to rethink that.

Sessions started his remarks at the Justice Department Monday by warning that "a dangerous movement, undetected by many, is now challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom."

One example of this supposedly dangerous "movement" threatening America?

The lawsuit against Jack Phillips, who was a guest at Sessions' announcement of the task force.

"We’ve all seen the ordeal faced so bravely by Jack Phillips," Sessions said. Phillips is the Colorado baker who fought all the way to the Supreme Court for the "right" to discriminate against gay people by refusing to bake wedding cakes for them.

This, according to Sessions, is the kind of "religious freedom" under attack that his Justice Department is now devoting an entire task force to protecting.

Another supposed example of those under attack who need the special attention of the Justice Department?

The Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Catholic nuns who also fought all the way to the Supreme Court to be exempted from providing health insurance that complied with federal law.

"We’ve seen nuns ordered to buy contraceptives," Sessions said in his remarks — a shameless, bald-faced lie. The nuns were never ordered to do any such thing. They wanted to opt of providing health care that covered contraception, but they refused to complete the simple form that would allow them to do so.

They rather absurdly insisted that even filling out a form somehow violated their religious beliefs.

It was a ridiculous argument, but far-right radicals like Sessions have continued to hold up their case as some sort of example that nuns are being unfairly targeted for their beliefs.

Since Trump took office, his administration has fought for the "right" of particular religious groups to deny health care access to others who may not share their beliefs.

In January, for example, the Department of Health and Human Services announced the creation of the so-called Conscience and Religious Freedom Division. That division seeks to protect the "conscience" of health care providers by allowing them to, for example, deny health care to transgender patients, or turn away women who are seeking birth control or abortion care.

The new division's director, Roger Severino, actually compared those health care professionals who discriminate against patients with Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust.

In May, Trump signed an executive order boasting about how he has prioritized "religious freedom." His examples included the creation of that division at HHS, his support for anti-abortion extremists, and his speech last October at the Values Voter summit, an annual meeting of right-wing hate groups.

It was at that summit that Trump declared victory in the non-existent, Fox News-created "war on Christmas."

"As we approach the end of the year, you know we’re getting near that beautiful Christmas season that people don’t talk about anymore," Trump said. "They don’t use the word 'Christmas,' because it’s not politically correct."

He complained that people say "Happy New Year," and then bragged, "Well, guess what? We’re saying Merry Christmas again."

As the Human Rights Campaign noted, this task force is the latest taxpayer-funded effort in the Trump administration's "ongoing campaign to license discrimination against LGBTQ people in the public square."

As further evidence of this discriminatory effort, HRC pointed out that Sessions named as co-chair of the task force Associate Attorney General Jesse Pannuccio, who previously worked as an attorney for supporters of California's marriage equality ban, Proposition 8.

The Trump administration has not been shy about its hostility to LGBTQ people. Trump unilaterally tried to impose a ban on trans people serving in the military; even his own generals objected.

For the past two years, the White House has refused to acknowledge LGBTQ Pride Month in June.

Now, with this new task force, the Justice Department is further promoting Trump's bigoted agenda and fighting for those who want the "right" to discriminate against their fellow Americans.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.