WASHINGTON - The Justice Department has aggressively come to the defense of religious freedom. In a memorandum addressed to all DOJ department heads and United States attorneys, Attorney General Jeff Sessions expressed his agenda to implement federal Law protection for religious freedom.
"The President has instructed me to issue guidance interpreting relgious liberty protections in federal law."
These broad protections have called into question whether the religious freedoms for some may impose discrimination on others such as the LGBT community and pro-choice advocates.
This statement comes at the same time the Trump Administration announced a major rollback in the Obamacare agenda: the contraception mandate. New rules issued by the Department of Health and Human Services reveal that companies will have more leeway in withholding birth control coverage based on their religious affiliation.
"Religious liberty is not merely a right to personal religious beliefs or even to worship in a sacred place," Sessions wrote. "Except in the narrowest of circumstances, no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law. Therefore, to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, religious observance should be reasonably accommodated in all government activity, including employment, contracting and programming."
Sessions' guidance included 20 key principles of religious liberty which summarize the Federal Government's relation to religious freedom.
"Our freedom as citizens has always been inextricably linked with our religious freedom as a people. It has protected both the freedom to worship and the freedom not to believe. Every American has a right to believe, worship, and exercise their faith. The protections for this right, enshrined in our Constitution and laws, serve to declare and protect this important part of our heritage."
- The freedom of religion is an important, fundamental right, expressly protected by federal law.
- The free exercise of religion includes the right to act or not to act in accordance with one's religious beliefs.
- The freedom of religion extends to persons and organizations.
- Americans do not give up their freedom of religion by participating in society or the economy, or interacting with government.
- Government may not restrict or compel actions because of the belief they display.
- Government may not exclude religious individuals or entities based on their religion.
- Government may not target religious individuals or entities through discriminatory enforcement of neutral, generally applicable laws.
- Government may not officially favor or disfavor particular religious groups.
- Government may not interfere with the autonomy of a religious organization.
- The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 ("RFRA") prohibits the federal government from substantially burdening any aspect of religious observance or practice, except in rare cases where the government has a compelling reason and there is not a less-restrictive option available.
- RFRA's protection extends not just to individuals, but also to organizations, associations, and at least some for-profit corporations.
- RFRA does not permit the federal government to second-guess the reasonableness of a sincerely held religious belief.
- A governmental action substantially burdens an exercise of religion under RFRA if it bans an aspect of an adherent's religious observance or practice, compels an act inconsistent with that observance or practice, or substantially pressures the adherent to modify such observance or practice.
- Under RFRA, any government action that would substantially burden religious freedom is held to an exceptionally demanding standard.
- RFRA applies even where a religious adherent seeks an exemption from a requirement to confer benefits on third parties.
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits covered employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of their religion.
- Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of religious observance or practice as well as belief, unless the employer cannot reasonably accommodate such observance or practice without undue hardship.
- The Clinton Guidelines on Religious Exercise and Religious Expression in the Federal Workplace provide useful examples for private employers of reasonable accommodations for religious observance and practice in the workplace.
- Religious employers are entitled to employ only persons whose beliefs and conduct are consistent with the employers' religious precepts.
- Generally, the federal government may not condition federal grants or contracts on the religious organization altering its religious character, beliefs, or activities.