Discrimination Is the Big Winner in the Justice Department's New Religious Guidelines

The statement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, with a long legal analysis by the department's lawyers, is meant to be guidance to the rest of the federal government on how to decide conflicts involving declarations of religious belief _ for example, the recent case involving a baker who refused to make a cake for a gay couple's wedding.

On Friday, Sessions issued another memo that includes 20 "sweeping principles" on religious freedom and how the government should protect it, the Washington Post reports.

In a call with reporters, ADF CEO Michael Farris confirmed to ABC News that Sessions met with the group during a series of so-called "listening sessions" convened by the Attorney General, who says he was "seeking suggestions regarding the areas of federal protection for religious liberty most in need of clarification or guidance". A claim of a violation of religious freedom could undercut anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people, women and other minorities or protected classes.

Religious liberty expert Robin Fretwell Wilson says the memo could force agencies to re-think their protections on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Based on the Session memo earlier Friday the Trump administration issued a sweeping rollback of the ObamaCare contraception mandate, that requires almost all employers to ensure health insurance plans provide contraception at no out-of-pocket cost to employees or those on their plans.

The freedom of religion is a fundamental right of paramount importance, expressly protected by federal law. "The plain truth is that Attorney General Sessions is running the Justice Department with a clear anti-transgender bias - not current law".

The guidance later says that the government can not "second-guess" whether a person's religious belief is reasonable and instructs that the scrutiny given to government regulations on the exercise of religion must be "exceptionally demanding". Enacted in 1993, RFRA is one of the primary legislative pillars upon which religious freedom arguments have rested in the last two decades.

"It opens the door for discrimination in the workplace and public services, flying in the face of the majority of Americans of whom over 70 percent believe laws should protect LGBTQ people from discrimination", Isaacs said.

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The 20-point guidance specifically says that the government can not make the disavowal of a religious view a condition of an organization or group receiving a grant or contract from the federal government and that "the freedom of religion extends to persons and organizations".

Religious schools, hospitals and other organizations would likely welcome the memo, as it would increase their ability to compete for federal grants, Garnett said.

In issuing the memo, Sessions is injecting the department into a thicket of highly charged legal questions that have repeatedly reached the U.S. Supreme Court, most notably in the 2014 Hobby Lobby case that said corporations with religious objections could opt out of a health law requirement to cover contraceptives for women. But critics say the guidance could undermine protections for the LGBT community. The SPLC said ADF "works to develop "religious liberty" legislation and case law that will allow the denial of good and services to LGBT people on the basis of relgion" and "has supported the recminalization of homosexuality in the US and criminalization overseas".

The freedom of religion extends to persons and organizations.

Rebecca Isaacs, executive director of the Equality Federation, said in a statement the religious freedom guidance is a "license to discriminate" and 'an attack on the values of freedom and fairness that make this nation great'.

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

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.

This memo comes one day after Sessions instructed the Justice Department to no longer interpret the prohibition on sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as applying to cases of transgender discrimination.

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