Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Monday that the U.S. Justice Department is launching a “religious liberty task force” — and Twitter erupted.
The new unit will aid the department in fully implementing the religious liberty legal “guidance” issued last year under President Donald Trump’s direction, Sessions said in a speech at the Justice Department’s Religious Liberty Summit in Washington.
The attorney general charged that the freedom to practice religion in America has come “under attack” in the nation’s current “cultural climate.”
A “dangerous movement, undetected by many, but real, is now challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom .... It must be confronted ... and defeated,” he added.
“We’ve seen nuns ordered to buy contraceptives. We’ve seen United States senators ask judicial and executive branch nominees about dogma .... We’ve all seen the ordeal faced so bravely by Jack Phillips,” Sessions added, referring to the Colorado baker who won a religious liberty challenge to LGBTQ anti-discrimination law in the U.S. Supreme Court after refusing to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
Sessions called freedom of religion “indeed our first freedom being the first listed right in the First Amendment” and said that the Trump administration is “actively seeking to accommodate people of faith.”
Sessions touted his department’s prosecution of attacks on religion, among them court actions shielding about 90 plaintiffs from Obama-era requirements that employer health insurance cover contraception, an amicus brief “we were proud to file” on behalf of Phillips, and indictments in an arson attack and threats directed at two mosques.
Twitter exploded, with critics charging that the Religious Liberty Task Force was a front to protect religious zealots attacking LGBTQ rights and an unconstitutional push to marry church and state on the altar of Christianity.