On July 30, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions unveiled plans to create a new religious liberty task force at the Department of Justice’s Religious Liberty Summit.
Sessions will serve as chair of this new initiative. Jesse Panuccio, Associate Attorney General, is set to co-chair the venture. The Religious Liberty Summit included a panel of policy and legal experts and a discussion labeled “The Promise and Challenge of Religious Liberty.” The owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Jack Phillips, who was the subject of a crucial religious freedom case the United States Supreme Court ruled on last month, was a member of the panel.
“Freedom of religion has been a core American principle from the very beginning of our country — indeed, it is our ‘first freedom,’” Sessions said at the event. “President Trump promised that he would make preserving and protecting our religious liberty the first priority of his administration. The Department of Justice is committed to assisting with that effort.”
The nation’s top law enforcement official added that the DOJ is putting together the new religious liberty task force to “institutionalize this process” and pinpoint new ways to engage in the vital issue of religious freedom. Sessions explained that the new venture will protect people from federal regulations that conflict with a person’s religious convictions.
“A dangerous movement, undetected by many, but real, is now challenging and eroding a great tradition of religious freedom,” Sessions continued. “There can be no doubt it’s no little matter. It must be confronted intellectually and politically and defeated.”
Referencing recent events where Americans’ closely held beliefs were infringed upon, Sessions stated, “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.”
Referring to the guidance he provided the executive branch about protecting religious freedom last year, the attorney general said, “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.”
Sessions reiterated that, unlike the Obama administration, the current one is proactively striving to defend people of faith. To bring home his point, the Attorney General reminded the audience that the Justice Department recently won a case involving a man who was prosecuted for setting a mosque on fire last year. Sessions contended that the DOJ he leads is “aggressively and appropriately enforcing our civil rights laws, our hate crimes laws, and laws protecting churches and faith groups.”
In addition to continuing the DOJ’s ongoing quest to promote and safeguard religious freedom, the new task force will consider new initiatives such as “engaging in outreach to the public, religious liberty communities, and religious liberty organizations, and developing new strategies involving litigation, policy, and legislation, all with the goal of ensuring protection of this key, fundamental right.” To increase its odds of success, the new venture will rely on support from several of the DOJ’s divisions including the Office of Legal Counsel and the Civil Rights Division.
The attorney general’s announcement concerning the new religious liberty task force came less than a week after the State Department hosted the inaugural Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. More than 80 delegations from around the globe attended the event.
While speaking at the occasion, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo said, “My own faith is of the greatest importance to me personally. As an American, I’ve been blessed with the right to live out what I believe without fear of persecution or reprisal from my government. I want everyone else to enjoy this blessing too. President Trump’s unwavering commitment to religious freedom and the decision to hold this first-ever religious freedom ministerial is not driven by my own personal story, but rather it is rooted in the American story.”
~ 1776 Christian