Sessions: ‘This Department of Justice Is Going to Court Across America to Defend the Rights of People of Faith’

rights Trump President elect fair slash spending America rights faith people SessionsOn Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivered a speech on religious liberty. Here are his remarks, as prepared for delivery, about the new task force on religious liberty, the Justice Department fighting for the rights of religious Americans, and what the Trump administration has done to promote religious freedom.

Let us be frank.

A dangerous movement, undetected by many, is now challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom. There can be no doubt. This is no little matter. It must be confronted and defeated.

This election, and much that has flowed from it, gives us a rare opportunity to arrest these trends. Such a reversal will not just be done with electoral victories, but by intellectual victories.

We have gotten to the point where courts have held that morality cannot be a basis for law; where ministers are fearful to affirm, as they understand it, holy writ from the pulpit; and where one group can actively target religious groups by labeling them a “hate group” on the basis of their sincerely held religious beliefs.

This president and this Department of Justice are determined to protect and even advance this magnificent heritage.

Freedom of religious is indeed our “first freedom”—being the first listed right of our First Amendment. This has been a core American principle from the beginning.

It is one of the reasons that this country was settled in the first place. The promise of freedom of conscience brought the Pilgrims to Plymouth, the Catholics to Maryland, the Quakers to Pennsylvania, the Scot-Presbyterians to the middle colonies, and Roger Williams to Rhode Island. Each one of these groups and others knew what it was like to be hated, persecuted, outnumbered, and discriminated against. Each one knew what it was like to have a majority try to force them to deny their natural right to practice the faith they held dear.

Our Founders gave religious expression a double protection in the First Amendment. Not only do we possess freedom to exercise our beliefs but we also enjoy the freedom of speech.

Our Founders’ understanding of and commitment to religious freedom was truly brilliant as well as historic.

It arose in large part from the principles delineated in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom—and its effective advocates: Madison and Jefferson. These guys were ferocious. This weekend, I was rereading Garry Wills’ fabulous book, “Head and Heart,” in which he quotes extensively from the Jefferson’s Statute, as he refers to it. I commend all of it to you; but one line stood out in particular to me, “That almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested His supreme will that free it shall remain, by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint.”

Of course, this is entirely consistent with another of my favorite Jefferson quotes that you will find at his memorial just across the mall from where we are today: “For I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” This is what our Founders believed. They clearly recognized that an individual’s relationship to God is a natural right and precedes the existence of the state, and is not subject to state control.

These concepts were placed into our Constitution and laws and formed a national consensus that has greatly militated against religious hostility and violence—and has helped us to this day to be one of the world’s most diverse religious people.

There can be no doubt that we are stronger as a nation because of the contribution of religious Americans.

Every day across America, they feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, educate our young people, and care for the sick. They do so not because the government tells them to, but because they want to. They do these things because of their faith.

Their faith provides something the state can never provide—meaning and purpose and joy in their life.

But in recent years, the cultural climate in this country—and in the West more generally—has become less hospitable to people of faith. Many Americans have felt that their freedom to practice their faith has been under attack.

And it’s easy to see why. We’ve seen nuns ordered to buy contraceptives. We’ve seen U.S. senators ask judicial and executive branch nominees about dogma—even though the Constitution explicitly forbids a religious test for public office. We’ve all seen the ordeal faced so bravely by Jack Phillips.

Americans from a wide variety of backgrounds are concerned about what this changing cultural climate means for the future of religious liberty in this country.

President Trump heard this concern.

I believe this unease is one reason that he was elected. In substance, he said he respected people of faith and he promised to protect them in the free exercise of their faith. He declared we would say “Merry Christmas” again.

The Department of Justice has settled 24 civil cases with 90 plaintiffs regarding the previous administration’s wrong application of the contraception mandate to objecting religious employers.

Last month, a district court in Colorado issued a permanent injunction in the case involving the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of nuns who serve the elderly poor. This is a permanent injunction and a major victory for the Little Sisters of the Poor and religious freedom.

The government has no business telling the Little Sisters that they must provide an insurance policy that violates their sincere religious beliefs.

And since Day One, this administration has been delivering on that promise.

Soon after taking office, President Trump directed me to issue explicit legal guidance for all executive agencies on how to apply the religious liberty protections in federal law. Our team embraced that challenge. I issued that guidance in October, and it lays out 20 fundamental principles for the executive branch to follow.

Those include the principle that free exercise means a right to act—or to abstain from action. They include the principle that government shouldn’t impugn people’s motives or beliefs.

We don’t give up our rights when we go to work, start a business, talk about politics, or interact with the government. We don’t give up our rights when we assemble or join together. We have religious freedom as individuals and as groups. In short, we have not only the freedom to worship—but the right to exercise our faith. The Constitution’s protections don’t end at the parish parking lot nor can our freedoms be confined to our basements.

Under this administration, the federal government is not just reacting—we are actively seeking, carefully, thoughtfully, and lawfully, to accommodate people of faith. Religious Americans are no longer an afterthought.

We will take potential burdens on one’s conscience into consideration before we issue regulations or new policies.

And this Department of Justice is going to court across America to defend the rights of people of faith.

First of all, we are aggressively and appropriately enforcing our civil rights laws, our hate crimes laws, and laws protecting churches and faith groups.

Since January 2017, we have obtained 11 indictments and seven convictions in cases involving arson or other attacks or threats against houses of worship. Our Civil Rights Division has also obtained 12 indictments in other attacks or threats against people because of their religion.

And we are not slowing down.

Three weeks ago, we obtained a jury verdict against a man who set fire to a mosque in Texas and sentenced for a man from Missouri for threatening to kill members of a mosque.

In addition to protecting the safety of people of faith, we are also protecting them against unjust discrimination. In January, we filed a brief in a Montana court to defend parents who claim that the state barred their children from a private school scholarship program because they attend a religious school. We also filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., which was refused advertising space for having a religious message—including “joy to the world” on Merry Christmas.

And, of course, we were proud to file a brief in support of Jack Phillips.

We are taking steps to become even more effective.

In June I announced the Place to Worship Initiative. Under this initiative, the Department of Justice is holding public events across America and improving training for federal prosecutors about legal protections for houses of worship.

When I was in the Senate, we passed a law called the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, or RLUIPA. Under RLUIPA, the Department of Justice can file a civil action in court when religious groups are discriminated against in zoning laws.

Under my tenure as attorney general, we have not hesitated to use this tool when necessary. In June, we filed suit against a town in New Jersey that had refused over and over again—for eight years—to let an Orthodox Jewish congregation buy land for a synagogue. And just last week we filed a brief in federal court supporting the case of a Hindu temple in Maryland that claimed to have suffered discrimination in its attempts to purchase land.

We are going to keep going to court.  And I believe that we’re going to keep winning.

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—Jesse [Panuccio] and Beth [Williams].

The task force will help the department fully implement our religious liberty guidance by ensuring that all Justice Department components are upholding that guidance in the cases they bring and defend, the arguments they make in court, the policies and regulations they adopt, and how we conduct our operations. That includes making sure that our employees know their duties to accommodate people of faith.

As the people in this room know, you have to practice what you preach. We are also going to remain in contact with religious groups across America to ensure that their rights are being protected. We have been holding listening sessions and we will continue to host them in the coming weeks.

This administration is animated by that same American view that has led us for 242 years: that every American has a right to believe, worship, and exercise their faith in the public square. This approach has served this country well. We are perhaps the most religiously developed nation in the world and can take pride in respecting all people as they fully exercise their faiths.

It is clear that these policies have furthered peace, prosperity, freedom, lawfulness, and clarity.

As our nation grows order, we must not let it depart from this magnificent tradition.

Reprinted with permission from - The Daily Signal - by Jeff Sessions

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Herb Lieberman
2 years ago

As a Jewish man of faith, I support Our Nations People their right to practice their religion or no religion as they personally choose…And I support the movement to protect these rights….BUT I seriously believe unless the Govt and the AG moves to enforce existing law and prosecute those in Govt that have broken the laws be it in any of the three branches of Govt, we will become a LAWLESS NATION….

Martin Steed
2 years ago

The “problem” we have in our country today is that we do NOT teach the Constitution. People talk about “rights” without knowing what “rights” are. Read the Constitution, read the first ten Ammendments (the Bill of Rights). Notice that none of those “rights” places a burden or requirement on anybody else. You have a “right” to love who or what you want, but you do NOT have a right to make me like it, support it, or even accept it. You have a “right” to say what you want, but you do NOT have a right to make me listen… Read more »

2 years ago

Our nation was founded upon and because of the Word of God (the Bible), the person of Jesus Christ and a steadfast belief in the God of the Bible. Our founding documents were created for the express purpose of making it possible for those of faith to live out their lives in good conscience towards their God and man.

If we lose these ‘Inalienable’ rights. We have lost it all.

Wayne Peterkin
2 years ago

Nice. Refreshing and I applaud it. But Jeff Sessions’ transgressions as AG go far beyond this. After the November election, he should be replaced for those transgressions. I highly recommend Gregg Jarrett’s new book “The Russian Hoax” as it is the most honest, detailed, and provably truthful account of our President’s dishonest persecution by the FBI, the DOJ, the Clinton’s, the Democrats, and investigators including Mueller and his cadre of highly partisan predators. I say that Mueller is not on a “witch-hunt” but rather a “snipe-hunt”. The difference is that “snipes” are purely fictional while “witches” abound. My proof is… Read more »

Paul W
2 years ago

As a believer in a Supreme Creator as well as peoples’ God given right to practice their faith, I think that’s fantastic. With that being said, I think it’s about time for this AG to start prosecuting those in high level positions that are impeding this president at every turn. If the president fails because of obstruction, we could possibly end up with another far left marxist POTUS and your religious freedom will be toast. Mr. Sessions, for the love of God and this Nation, start multi-tasking. Moreover, rescind your recusal. It was foolhardy and erroneous.

Rev. Mark Cannaday
2 years ago

Thank you, General Sessions. This is immediate and important work. The enemies of the expression of Faith are enemies of themselves who, givien victory, would jeopardize their own freedom in the future. It would lead to no expression allowed of any point of view without a challenge by those who do not “believe” in what is said. Freedom of Religion is crucially linked to freedom of speech. Rebellion is inevitable if not protected. The Founders of our Nation understood this.

Brian B
2 years ago

Great speech by Jeff Sessions on religious liberty. Now it’s time for Attorney General Sessions to prosecute those who tried (and succeeded) to deny people of faith their religious liberty under the oppressive Obama administration.

Burton Pauly
2 years ago

This nation was founded on liberty for religions. The founders were smart enough to inculcate all of our rights and freedoms into our constitution. And we the people should always see to it that none of them are taken from us. We have fought, died , sacrificed , and served to insure our freedoms. And we will not allow any despots to take them away. MAGA, and keep the numbnuts out of our federal gov.

Doug Stephenson
2 years ago

it is good to finally have a Justice Dept. that does what the constitution says it was designed for. hooray for our President Trump as well. please all people who love this country please vote in this very important mid term.

2 years ago

As a person of faith, I’m thankful to God for the good leadership He’s given us through President Trump. I also applaud the president’s effort to defend the constitutional right of religious liberty of Americans. However, in light of the lawless activities and other shenanigans of the administration of the Department of Justice, including Jeff Sessions, I’m skeptical of the results that may come from people of such low/no moral character.

2 years ago

I have written many articles that were mysteriously removed while I was writing them to warn the people of not only our Nation but the World. It is not Politics that is disgracing our Government, it is the power of darkness that fears the ruler we happen to live under Who is this ruler? SATAN the DEVIL himself and I might add, all his !DISCiPLES that we have been listening to, especially on MSNBC also others stations. President Trump gave me hope as I was getting weary of my words being removed from warning the people of the plot to… Read more »

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