Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Monday that he will assume personal leadership of a Justice Department task force aimed at protecting religious freedoms.
The Religious Liberty Task Force will focus on protecting religious groups when government rules infringe on their ability to practice their beliefs.
“Freedom of religion has been a core American principle from the very beginning of our country — indeed, it is our ‘first freedom,’” Sessions said Monday, according to the Washington Examiner.
“President Trump promised that he would make preserving and protecting our religious liberty the first priority of his administration. The Department of Justice is committed to assisting with that effort,” Sessions said at the Justice Department’s Religious Liberty Summit.
Sessions said the task force is a response to threats against religious freedom.
“A dangerous movement, undetected by many, but real, is (now) challenging and eroding a great tradition of religious freedom,” Sessions said, according to The Washington Times. “There can be no doubt it’s no little matter. It must be confronted intellectually and politically and defeated.”
“Today I am announcing our next step: the Religious Liberty Task Force, to be co-chaired by the Associate Attorney General and the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy.”—Attorney General Sessions at DOJ’s Religious Liberty Summit https://t.co/NC0oBr5ine pic.twitter.com/YTi5T4p9ZB
— Justice Department (@TheJusticeDept) July 30, 2018
Representatives from the Civil Rights Division, Civil Division, Office of Legal Counsel and Office of Legal Policy will also participate in the task force.
Sessions said the task force will “help the department fully implement our religious liberty guidance,” including “making sure our employees know their duties to accommodate people of faith,” according to ABC.
The task force will follow through on a memo Sessions issued in October that highlighted ways religious freedom could be protected at the workplace and in the community. The new group will ensure the memo Sessions issued is implemented across the board by federal agencies.
Task force members and partners plan to reach out to religious organizations to learn how new policies and strategies can be developed to protect religious freedoms. When necessary, the task force will also look at instances in which lawsuits need to be filed to protect religious freedoms, Sessions said.
In June, in a speech to the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center’s Annual Leadership Mission, Sessions spoke about the importance of religious liberty in America.
“This has been a core American principle from the beginning. It’s one of the reasons that this country was settled in the first place. After all, it was the promise of freedom of conscience that brought the Pilgrims to Plymouth, the Catholics to Maryland, the Quakers to Pennsylvania, and Roger Williams to Rhode Island,” Sessions said, according to a text of this speech posted on the Justice Department’s website.
“But in recent years, the cultural climate has become less hospitable to people of faith and to religious belief. Many Americans have felt that their freedom to practice their faith has been under attack. This feeling is understandable. Religious Americans have heard themselves called deplorables. They’ve heard themselves called ‘bitter clingers,'” Sessions said.
Sessions said the Trump administration took office with a mandate from the American people to restore religious liberty.
“I believe this concern — this unease — is one reason that President Trump was elected. He made a promise that was heard. In substance, he said he respected people of faith and he promised to protect them in the free exercise of their faith,” Sessions said.
He added that the October memo he issued that laid the foundation for the task force he announced Monday “makes clear that religious exercise is not just some policy preference: it is an inalienable right. Our Constitution doesn’t just protect freedom of thought or the freedom to worship in secret. It protects the open expression and exercise of religious belief in public.”
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