A “dangerous movement” is “eroding” religious freedom in the United States, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday, and American culture has become “less hospitable to people of faith”.
Sessions vowed that his Justice Department will protect religious freedom and the right of Americans to live out their convictions.
Sessions spoke at a Justice Department summit on religious tolerance at a time when courts have been asked how to balance anti-discrimination laws against the First Amendment’s religious freedom guarantees. He also announced the creation of a “religious liberty task force” to implement Justice Department guidance on respecting and accommodating religious beliefs, including those of department employees.
Conservative groups immediately praised Sessions for promising to protect deeply held religious convictions, though critics of the Trump administration have repeatedly voiced concerns that the attorney general’s stance undercuts LGBT rights and favors the rights of Christians over those of other faiths.
Sessions claimed that “nuns were being forced to buy contraceptives” in what seemed an inaccurate reference to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that women covered by health plans offered by religious groups have access to contraceptives.
Sessions also objected to members of Congress asking judicial and executive branch nominees about their religious dogma. And he praised a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple in a case that reached the Supreme Court and ended in his favor this year. That baker, Jack Phillips, was part of a panel discussion at the Justice Department summit.
“Let’s be frank: A dangerous movement, undetected by many but real, is now challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom. There can be no doubt. It’s no little matter. It must be confronted intellectually and politically and defeated,” Sessions said. “This election, this past election, and much that has flowed from it, gives us a rare opportunity to arrest these trends and to confront them.”