Trump administration religious freedom task force ‘will undermine LGBT rights’

President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions (Alex Wong/Getty)

Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions has announced the formation of a “religious freedom task force” that activists fear will be used to “license discrimination against LGBTQ people in the public square”.

Sessions announced the formation of the Task Force at the  Religious Liberty Summit hosted by the Justice Department today.

At the event Sessions reaffirmed his belief that people and business owners should be freely able to discriminate based on their religious briefs, lavishing praise on ‘turn away the gays’ baker Jack Phillips, who was invited to speak.

President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions (Alex Wong/Getty)

Sessions also announced the formation of a task force that will “enforce” religious liberty across government.

He added: “The President 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 and it lays out principles to follow. Those include the principle that free exercise [of religion] includes the right to act or abstain from action. They include the principle that government shouldn’t impugn one’s motives or beliefs. We don’t give up our rights when we go to work or start a business.

“Today I am announcing a Religious Liberty Task Force, which will help the department fully implement our religious liberty guidance, by ensuring all Justice Department components are upholding that guidance in the cases they bring and defend, the arguments they make in court, the policies they adopt, and how we conduct our operations.”

President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions (Win McNamee/Getty)

Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said: “This taxpayer funded task force is yet another example of the Trump-Pence White House and Jeff Sessions sanctioning discrimination against LGBTQ people.

“Over the last 18 months, Donald Trump, Mike Pence and Jeff Sessions have engaged in a brazen campaign to erode and limit the rights of LGBTQ people in the name of religion.

“The Attorney General standing shoulder-to-shoulder this morning with anti-LGBTQ extremists tells you everything you need to know about what today’s announcement was really all about.”

DNC LGBTQ media director Lucas Acosta said: “From supporting the right to refuse service to same-sex couples to banning military service by transgender individuals to removing mentions of LGBTQ issues from the White House website, Attorney General Sessions’ creation of a Religious Liberty Task Force is just the latest assault in this administration’s continued campaign against LGBTQ people and our civil rights.

“By creating this task force, Sessions is establishing a unit dedicated to undermining LGBTQ rights and giving anti-LGBTQ far-right extremists like task force head Jesse Panuccio a taxpayer-funded platform to push their anti-equality agenda.

“Rather than ensuring every person has equal protections and opportunities, Sessions is shamefully doubling down on bigotry.

“This action is further proof that Republicans continue to push forward an agenda completely out of step with the American people and our values. Democrats will continue to focus on how to improve opportunity for all Americans regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or income.”

The event was attended by anti-LGBT activists from evangelical lobbying groups, including listed hate group Alliance Defending Freedom.

Sessions defended the groups in his speech and hit out at the “hate group” label, defined by extremism watchdog the Southern Poverty Law Center.

A hardline opponent of LGBT rights, Sessions has worked to undermine protections for LGBT people across the federal government, in a series of decisions reversing Obama administration guidance.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions (Mark Wilson/Getty)

He issued a directive protecting “the right to perform or abstain from performing certain physical acts in accordance with one’s beliefs”, granting an unlimited license to discriminate against LGBT people based on religion.

Under his leadership, the Justice Department has rolled back civil rights protections for transgender people, and has also made an uninvited intervention into discrimination cases to argue that it’s legal to discriminate against gay employees.

The department has also sought to undermine civil rights laws protecting LGBT people in court filings.