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Seeing threat to religious freedom, Jeff Sessions announces special task force

Announcement came after weeklong summit hosted by the State Department

Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke at a Religious Liberty Summit at the Department of Justice on July 30. Sessions says there’s a “dangerous movement” to erode protections for Americans to worship and believe as they choose.
Photo Credits: Manuel Balce Ceneta | Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced during a Department of Justice summit in Washington that he is creating a religious liberty task force to challenge what he called a dangerous movement “eroding our great tradition of religious freedom.”

Sessions said July 30 the task force is an outgrowth of President Trump’s executive order directing agencies to protect religious liberty, and he said it would help Justice Department employees remember that it is their duty to accommodate people of faith.

“This administration is animated by that same American view that has led us for 242 years — that every American has a right to believe and worship and exercise their faith in the public square,” Sessions said at the summit. The Trump administration last week emphasized religious freedom in a three-day State Department summit.

But Sessions also alluded to the fears of some Americans that the freedom to practice their faith has been under attack. He spoke of nuns “ordered to buy contraceptives,” a reference to an Obama-era contraception mandate. The mandate didn’t force the nuns to buy contraceptives but to cover the costs of contraceptives in their employees’ health plans.

“Religious Americans are no longer an afterthought,” he said. “We will take potential burdens on one’s conscience into consideration before we issue regulations or policies.”

Speaking at the summit alongside Sessions were a host of religious leaders, including Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, as well as Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker who won a Supreme Court case after refusing to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding.

During a panel discussion, a host of religious leaders described their personal religious liberty battles. They included a Chabad rabbi who fought opposition to his building a synagogue in Boca Raton, Fla., a Sikh lawyer who refused to shave his beard and take off his turban to accept a job and Phillips, the evangelical Christian who wouldn’t bake the cake.

Sessions praised Phillips for his “bravery” in his Masterpiece Cakeshop legal challenge. Others, including Archbishop Kurtz and Heritage Foundation executive Emilie Kao, said the country ought to defend the rights of faith-based adoption agencies to prohibit same-sex couples from adopting children.

“When activists try to force Christian ministries into violating their consciences, they force Christians into a bind,” Archbishop Kurtz said. “We cannot reject our commitments to service, nor can we turn away from our commitment to the truth about the human person.”

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