Jeff Sessions forms Religious Liberty Task Force to protect freedom of religion

July 30, 2018

The Justice Department on Monday announced the formation of a Religious Liberty Task Force aimed at ensuring religious groups’ protections when their beliefs conflict with government regulations.

In October, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a directive outlining a broad interpretation of religious freedom protections. It provided support for employers making hiring decisions based on their faith or objecting to providing health insurance for birth control.

The task force will follow up on that directive, Mr. Sessions said Monday. It will facilitate Justice Department compliance with the memo; facilitate coordination with it across government agencies; and reach out to religious organizations for feedback and develop new policies and strategies to protect religious freedoms.

If necessary, the task force will also review new lawsuits to protect religious freedoms, Mr. Sessions said.

“A dangerous movement, undetected by many, but real, is not challenging and eroding a great tradition of religious freedom,” Mr. Sessions said announcing the task force. “There can be no doubt it’s no little matter. It must be confronted intellectually and politically and defeated.”

Mr. Sessions will chair the task force. Representatives from multiple Justice Department components including the Civil Rights Division, Civil Division, Office of Legal Counsel and Office of Legal Policy will also participate.

Since President Trump has taken office, the Justice Department has settled 24 cases involving 90 plaintiffs who raised a religious or moral objection to the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate imposed on employers, Mr. Sessions said.

Archbishop of Louisville Joseph Kurtz praised the Justice Department’s efforts to fight the Obama contraceptive mandate. He talked about a recent case in which a group of nuns challenged the order in federal court.

“Thanks to the regulations of this administration issued this past October for which we’re very grateful, the contraceptive mandate’s heavy fines no longer loom over us, as this did before,” he said.

Under the Trump administration, the Justice Department has also obtained 11 indictments and seven convictions involving arson, an attack or threat against a house of worship, and 12 indictments in attacks or threats on people because of the religion.