Making good on President Donald Trump’s campaign promise, religious groups will have the ability to express their beliefs openly, even when in direct conflict with government actions, “including hiring decisions” according to USA Today.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ issuance if the guidance on behalf of the Justice Department include government-wide guidelines on religious expression takes President Trump’s executive order from May to a new level.
The Obama era order ruffled the feathers of some evangelicals. According to the Hill, it targeted:
“…A provision of tax law prohibiting churches from direct involvement in political campaigns, a point that has chafed some evangelical activists.”
Sessions’ pointedly targets the Internal Revenue Services’ enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, which disallows political intervention by non-profits into the campaigns on behalf of specific candidates.
According to The Hill, the directive states that the IRS could not enforce the Johnson Amendment because it would not apply:
“…In cases involving a religious non-profit when the same activity would not be enforced against a secular organization”
Sessions’ guidance also includes a section on religious non-profits being treated like for-profit entities in that they cannot be “excluded from federal grant programs” when those programs have no bearing on how the religious organization worships.
On the other hand, the directive extends the “conscience protections” for churches to private businesses.
The directive also had some up in arms over hiring and firing based on religious beliefs, especially where sexual orientation may be in conflict with the employers’ beliefs.
Sessions’ decision included the following statement to counteract that point:
“Except in the narrowest of circumstances, no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law. To the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, religious observance and practice should be reasonably accommodated in all government action, including employment, contracting and programming.”
Another section of Sessions’ guidance reverses the birth control mandate, an executive order issued by former President Barack Obama that requires health insurance companies to cover the cost of women’s birth control pills.
It is Sessions’ opinion that any decision made by a religious employer to not provide contraception to employees should not be second-guessed, since forcing religious employers to cover birth control would “make the employers compliant in wrongdoing.”
Sessions guidance comes on the heels of a number of other directives, including one from Sessions reversing protections for transgender people that the Obama Administration initiated in 2014. He notes that in his opinion, the law doesn’t cover sexual identity.
“The prohibition on sex discrimination “encompasses discrimination between men and women but does not encompass discrimination based on gender identity, per se, including transgender status.”
The Family Research Council’s president, Tony Perkins, wholeheartedly agreed with Sessions’ guidance, noting that the “concrete steps” taken would reverse the “relentless assault on the First Amendment” over the last eight years.
Check out this video of AG Sessions on religious freedom: