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US Attorney General Jefferson Sessions Issues New Guidance On Transgender Employees

US Attorney General Jefferson Sessions Issues New Guidance On Transgender Employees

At the instruction of President Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has released a memo to all government departments and agencies that provides guidance as to how federal laws pertaining to religious liberty protections should be interpreted.

Sessions issues the guidance as a result of an executive order Trump signed in May empowering the attorney general to issue religious freedom guidance.

The attorney general's memorandum includes protections under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), including (#14) how demanding its legal standard is in protecting religious liberty, (#12) that it does not allow the federal government "to second-guess the reasonableness of a religious belief", and (#13) RFRA is violated when the government "substantially pressures" a religious person or group "to modify such observance or practice".

"Federal agencies, government contractors, and grant recipients should not be permitted to discriminate simply by citing a religious belief for doing so", Gupta concluded. This could open the door for widespread, religious-based discrimination against women, LGBT people, people of minority faiths and races, and others in a variety of contexts. "Freedom of religion is paramount to our nation's success but does not give people the right to impose their beliefs on others to harm others or to discriminate".

For several leading LGBT advocates, the new guidance was an alarming effort to undermine sexual orientation discrimination protections, under the guise of affirming religious liberty, that could have far-reaching implications.

All eyes were on the Department of Health and Human Services on Friday, as the Trump administration announced a major broadening of exemptions to the federal contraception mandate, prompting cheers from religious freedom proponents nationwide.

Furthermore, the guidance says, religious freedom is more than the right to worship or believe privately.

The unanswerable concern, though, is whether a Sessions-run Justice Department actually would act in cases of emergencies or take steps to make sure that government agencies themselves treat LGBT people equally as the law demands when it comes to areas like marriage rights and benefits.

Sessions said that his guidelines would enhance the fundamental American principle of religious freedom.

Critics are concerned that could create legal grounds for discrimination: religious employers could potentially fire people for being gay or trans, or otherwise refuse to serve them.

Elsewhere, the memo asserts that religious groups "generally may not be required to alter their religious character to participate in a government program". Religious social service providers, for example, would be able to use federal funds to discriminate against LGBTQ people in hiring and services. The AP calls it "an order that undercuts protections for LGBT people".

"All Americans should have the freedom to peacefully live and work consistent with their faith without fear of government punishment", said Michael Farris, the president of the Alliance Defending Freedom. Then-Attorney General Eric Holder's 2014 position on the matter was that the word "sex" in the statute "extends to claims of discrimination based on an individual's gender identity, including transgender status".

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'.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the administration's announcements Friday as clearly in line with Supreme Court precedent. "A license to discriminate goes against our core American values and I fear that the guidance the Justice Department issued today is not created to help agencies comply with the law, but rather to give them greater leeway to condone discrimination against LGBTQ people, women and others".

AG Sessions earlier this week explained transgender people are no longer protected by civil rights laws about sexual discrimination by employers.


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