Sessions issues 'religious freedom' guidance undermining LGBT rights

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"Quoting from the 1952 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Zorach v. Clauson, he concluded, "[Government] follows the best of our traditions ... when it respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the public service to their spiritual needs".

In essence, it says that religious rights trump civil rights.

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

For example, Louise Melling, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that the guidance could allow a religious employer to fire an employee who had a child out of wedlock or fire an employee who married a same-sex partner.

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has reversed a federal government policy that said transgender workers were protected from discrimination under a 1964 civil rights law, according to a memo on Wednesday sent to agency heads and US attorneys.

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"This guidance does not resolve any specific cases; it offers guidance on existing protections for religious liberty in federal law", the Justice Department said in a statement.

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a group whose stated mission is to "keep the doors open for the Gospel by advocating for religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family", hailed Sessions' announcement, while a number of leading LGBT advocacy groups condemned the move for effectively offering a religious exemption for sexual orientation discrimination.

In a memo sent to the heads of all federal agencies and the US attorneys, the attorney general stated that as a matter of law, "Title VII does not prohibit discrimination based on gender identity per se". The administration's new guidance also downplays harm to innocent third parties by someone acting on their religious belief.

"The President has instructed me to issue guidance interpreting relgious liberty protections in federal law".

A Justice Department official said Thursday the department hasn't decided if those grants will also be tied to immigration policies.

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ADF lawyers have argued several cases before the Supreme Court and are now representing Colorado baker Jack Phillips, who is challenging the state's nondiscrimination protections after he was found in violation of the law for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple in 2012. Federal law says that is permitted, the memo says. They say some people don't even bother fighting them.

"The Free Exercise Clause protects not just the right to believe or the right to worship; it protects the right to perform or abstain from performing certain physical acts in accordance with one's beliefs", Sessions wrote in the 25-page document. The Trump administration pitches its rules weakening the birth control coverage mandate as policies that give voice to a purportedly "silenced" group. Trump himself hasn't generally expressed the animus towards LGBT people that he's shown for Mexicans, Muslims, and women, and sometimes quite the opposite-promising, for instance, to protect the community after a gunman killed 49 people in a Florida nightclub during his election campaign.

The guidance says the government can not unduly burden people or certain businesses from practicing their faith, noting, "The free exercise of religion includes the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one's religious beliefs".

The Obama administration required employers to cover birth control and an array of other preventive health services with no out-of-pocket costs.

A federal district court also allowed a Christian funeral home in MI to fire a transgender employee for RFRA reasons in a 2016 ruling. It means the DOJ won't take the side of transgender people in Title VII lawsuits-but the government's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission still does, and the EEOC website lists a string of cases in which federal courts have agreed.

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Many other states have passed similar religious freedom bills.

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