Trump Instructs DOJ to Protect Religious Freedom

Oct 6, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Trump administration strongly protected the free exercise of religion today by reversing Obama-era policies with new legal guidance issued to the Department of Justice (DOJ) by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The Attorney General issued two memoranda. The first addressed to all administrative agencies and executive departments, identifies 20 key principles of religious liberty. The guidance reminds agencies of their obligations under federal law to protect religious liberty, and summarizes twenty key principles of religious-liberty protections that agencies can use in that effort. It explains that agencies should use these principles to protect religious liberty in all aspects of their work, including as employers, rule-makers, adjudicators, contract- and grant-makers and program administrators.

On specific policies, the guidance states that government may not exclude religious organizations from secular aid programs and the IRS may not enforce the Johnson Amendment which restricts tax-exempt organizations, including churches and religious organizations, from endorsing or opposing candidates for elected office.

Attorney Sessions’ second memorandum, addressed to DOJ components and United States Attorney’s offices, directs the implementation of that guidance within the Department.

The DOJ earlier this year demonstrated a shift in policy from the Obama administration as it commented on Zarda v. Altitude Express at the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals, which contends that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bans gender discrimination, but does not include sexual orientation or gender identity, in the workplace. The guidance today demonstrates further that the DOJ recognizes that religious liberty principles are in fact stalwart even when challenged by special interest groups.

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