What Happened to the Separation of Church and State?
The guidance apparently follows President Trump’s May 4 executive order directing agencies to respect and protect religious liberty and political speech, made by both individual and organizations.
More precisely, the order follows Trump’s decision to roll back a federal mandate requiring employers to cover birth control in their employees’ health insurance plans.
The memo, 25 pages long, maps out 20 guiding principles aiming to remind agencies that freedom of religion is a fundamental right and that the free exercise of religious “includes the right to act or abstain from an action in accordance with one’s religious beliefs.”
Let’s unpack this logic because it’s actually quite twisted. Religious groups cry government overreach when the government requires employers, Christian or not, to cover birth control. The federal government mandates such a thing because it is an integral component of women’s health. The religious organizations claiming that they are being discriminated against are actually attempting to violate the separation of church and state by integrating their belief systems into public policy.
This is the kind of thing that Sessions’ guidance seeks to allow. And quite honestly, it doesn’t come as a surprise, does it? Sessions loves a good policy that adversely impacts women and people of color. So does most of the Trump administration.
“As President Trump said, ‘Faith is deeply embedded in the history of our country, the spirit of our founding and the soul of our nation. This administration will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied, or silenced anymore,” – Jeff Sessions
What about the women who cannot afford access to a drug that prevents pregnancies that they cannot afford, either? The freedom to live without a reproductive cycle that causes intense physical pain? The simple freedom to make choices about their bodies?
No word from Sessions on standing up for those citizens.
Other types of discrimination will follow. Included among the principles is the guidance that certain religious organizations are entitled to hire only people whose beliefs and conduct are “consistent with their employers’ religious precepts.”
The guidance would allow, for example, a Lutheran school to hire only practicing Lutherans, only practicing Christians or only those who adhere to a code of conduct specified by the school itself.
Religious organizations will be exempt from discrimination laws if doing so would conflict with the organization’s religious beliefs and principles.
Can you guess what this means?
Religious organizations will be allowed to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The government will still likely prohibit religious groups from discriminating on the basis of race, but that won’t prevent them from invoking other methods of discrimination to do the same work.
“Supreme Court has held that the government’s interest in addressing sexual-orientation discrimination is not sufficiently compelling to justify an infringement on the expressive association of rights of a private organization.” – Jeff Sessions
Mr. Sessions is on the wrong side of history.