Friday, 20 October, 2017

Trump religious objection order upends LGBT protections

Wilma Wheeler | 08 October, 2017, 00:46

"Our freedom as citizens has always been inextricably linked with our religious freedom as a people". It's also one more step in the erosion of LGBT rights that the current administration has taken say activists.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a broad decree which encourages agencies to do as much as possible for people who feel their religious beliefs are being violated.

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". The Trump administration pitches its rules weakening the birth control coverage mandate as policies that give voice to a purportedly "silenced" group. After all, the whole reason this debate exists is because the Obama administration wanted to end unequal treatment in the provision of medical care, and it determined that employers' personal objections to employees' decisions about their bodies weren't important enough to stand in the way of accomplishing that policy goal.

The memo also asserts the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act applies not only to people, but also to organizations and businesses.

The freedom of religion extends to persons and organizations.

It expanded a religious exemption that previously applied to houses of worship, religiously affiliated nonprofit groups and closely held private companies.

"The attempts by the previous administration to provide some protections were inadequate", said a senior HHS official of the Obama administration's efforts to provide workarounds for religious groups. But the 17-page appendix setting forth the DOJ's analysis of federal "religious liberty" law devotes just one short paragraph to the Establishment Clause.

Friday's memos do not resolve specific cases now in the court system.

Americans do not give up their freedom of religion by participating in the marketplace, partaking of the public square, or interacting with the government.

The directive "effectively lifts a burden from religious objectors to prove their beliefs about marriage or other topics are sincerely held".

Government may not restrict acts or abstentions because of the beliefs they display. Instead, it informs how the government should interpret existing federal law.

Sessions says "this is a conclusion of law, not policy". "It also encompasses religious observance and practice". 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 USA and criminalization overseas".

"Fortunately, we have a President who understands that and has directed his administration to reduce crime".

The last principle is drawing the most controversy. "The Supreme Court's already made clear what their position is, and it supports what this administration has done".

Others, though, said concerns might be overblown.

The guidance also informs regulations, grants, contracts, and diversity training.

Many other states have passed similar religious freedom bills.

Finally, the document released by Sessions said that religious organizations must have equal footing in applying for federal aid or grant programs - they may not be denied participation in these programs when the money is going toward activities that are not explicitly religious in nature. This idea was reinforced by the Supreme Court in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC - a rare unanimous ruling in 2012 in which the court upheld the "ministerial exception" that allows religious organizations to hire and fire ministers without interference from the government. "It's up to our bishops to decide a university is sufficiently Catholic or not, not our federal government", he said.

"There has been a nationwide injunction against that rule, and the federal government has indicated that it plans to reconsider the rule", Baylor noted.

The free exercise of religion includes the right to act or not to act in accordance with one's religious beliefs.


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