TOP Liberty

Is the Trump Administration Using Religion to Allow Discrimination?


U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday a new twist to an old plan by adding funds to the "Project Safe Neighborhoods program", which Montana's new top federal lawyer hopes will reduce violent crime.

The freedom of religion is a fundamental right of paramount importance, expressly protected by federal law.

While the memo refers to protecting the rights of religious employers, it doesn't specify whether it's referring only to religious institutions such as churches and their charities or to businesses whose owners hold religious views against hiring certain people or baking a cake for a gay wedding, an issue now before the Supreme Court. Previous RFRA laws referred only to protections citizens enjoy when the government was directly burdening their religious practice, but Indiana's law was created to offer "religious freedom" as a justification in cases between two citizens, thus protecting those who would discriminate because of their religious beliefs. According to the EEOC's statistics, the agency received 1,768 charges in 2016 that alleged sex discrimination related to sexual orientation and/or gender identity/transgender status.

The new policy lays the groundwork for discrimination against same-sex couples or women, like in the Hobby Lobby ruling. Sessions' memo said the IRS should not target a religious organization in circumstances in which it would also not target a secular one.

The Justice Department announced Thursday that it would add 40 prosecutors to 20 US attorney districts across the country, with instructions to team with local law enforcement to target guns, illegal drugs and the most violent offenders.

"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.

The free exercise of religion includes the right to act or not to act in accordance with one's religious beliefs. And he says the move should not be construed to condone mistreatment of transgender people. The memo states the Trump administration "will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied, or silenced anymore".

It makes clear the Trump administration across all executive branch agencies and departments will ensure the rights of people of faith supersede the rights of LGBT people.

Under the new policy, a claim of violation of religious freedom would be enough to override concerns about civil rights for LGBTI people.

'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, ' Griffin said in a statement.

The Clinton Guidelines on Religious Exercise and Religious Expression in the Federal Workplace provide useful examples for private employers of reasonable accommodations for religious observance and practice in the workplace. Both actions were the result of Trump's executive order in May.

The U.S. Justice Department plans to fast-track the process for tracing guns that were used in shootings back to the original purchasers, as part of a broader effort to crack down on violent crime.

The guidance also reiterates that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employers covered by the regulation from discriminating based on an individual's religious belief, observance or practice, "unless the employer can not reasonably accommodate such observance or practice without undue hardship". Among them, it says that religious employers are entitled to hire only workers whose beliefs and conduct are "consistent with the employer's' religious beliefs" - a directive adopted under former President George W. Bush - and that some of the legal principles extend "not just to individuals, but also to organizations, associations, and at least some for-profit corporations".

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