Attorney General Jeff Sessions sparked the ire of LGBTQ rights advocates Friday after issuing new guidance giving religious groups and individuals broad protections in cases when their faith conflicts with federal regulations.
In a memorandum titled “Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty,” Sessions detailed 20 principles regarding the implications of religious freedom on the U.S. government, The Washington Post reported. In a troubling, if unsurprising, move, the memorandum included language indicating that religious employers should be allowed to hire only those whose conduct is consistent with their faith.
“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,” the attorney general wrote, according to USA Today. “To the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, religious observance and practice should be reasonably accommodated in all government action, including employment, contracting and programming.”
The news sparked immediate backlash from a number of queer rights organizations, many of which deemed the directive a “license to discriminate.”
National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey felt similarly, arguing that the guidance would “cause immeasurable harm to millions of people,” while American Civil Liberties Union Deputy Legal Director Louise Melling stated Sessions’ directive “isn’t consistent with religious freedom.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center went a step further, vowing to “resist this guidance and all that it stands for” moving forward.
“As with so many of the Trump administration’s actions, this guidance is intended to and will encourage federal agencies to ignore the rights of vulnerable communities,” SPLC’s Deputy Legal Director David Dinielli wrote in an email statement. “But this administration cannot turn our collective hearts against our fellow Americans.”
The move came one day after news broke that Sessions had issued a directive indicating that the Justice Department would roll back 2014 guidance that included protections for trans government employees under Title VII, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.