Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III permits employers to discriminate against transgender employees

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III permits employers to discriminate against transgender employees

In an order that undercuts protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a sweeping directive to agencies Friday to do as much as possible to accommodate those who say their religious freedoms are being violated.

The guidance says the government can not unduly burden people or certain businesses from practicing their faith, noting, "The free exercise of religion includes the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one's religious beliefs".

Tony Perkins, head of the conservative Family Research Council, in a statement lauding Trump, said his group has set up a hot line for federal employees and others who feel they've faced discrimination over their religious beliefs.

The Department of Justice today issued a guidance document on religious freedom that actually creates a broad license to discriminate against LGBT people, single mothers, and others. "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".

"The president believes that the freedom to practice one's faith is a fundamental right in this country - and I think all of us do - and that's all that today was about".

However, the legal memo suggests that the government's legal authority to forbid racial discrimination may not be as strong as its authority to target other forms of discrimination, such as bias against women or LGBT individuals.

Sessions' guidelines comes on the same day that the Trump administration ended a provision of the Affordable Care Act requiring businesses to include birth control as part of insurance coverage.

In the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor against the mandate at the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court in a rare move in the middle of the case ordered both the plaintiffs and the government to submit briefs detailing if, and how a solution could be crafted that provided for cost-free coverage outlined in the HHS mandate, while at the same time maintaining the religious freedom of the non-profits that sued the government.

Critics said the guidance could result in LGBT individuals, women or others facing discrimination in federal programs.

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In the memo to Justice Department attorneys, Sessions urged his subordinates to keep in mind the primacy of religious freedom in actions such as drafting rules within the administration.

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 Deputy Legal Director at the ACLU stated: "it is countenancing discrimination".

Freedom of religion does not give people right to discriminate. "There will be numerous interpretations of what that religious freedom test would be and how the license to discrimination would be applied across particular agencies, grants and contracts", Stachelberg says. Sessions and the Department of Justice interpret it differently, taking "sex" to be discrimination between men and women.

Government may not interfere with the autonomy of a religious organization.

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.

But the justice department, led by Sessions, argued that the 1964 Civil Rights Act - which outlaws discrimination based on a number of characteristics - does not provide any protections for gay people, despite outlawing sex-based discrimination. "We welcome President Trump's commitment to continue this legacy of protecting religious liberty".

According to Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin, the new guidance makes millions of Americans vulnerable to discrimination. "Nothing could be more un-American and unholy that using religion to justify harm and discrimination to others".

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