The US Attorney General Jeff Sessions pledged to bring back provisions which protect businesses that discriminate against people on religious grounds in a secret speech earlier this week.
Trump’s legal chief Jeff Sessions this week attended a summit held by Alliance Defending Freedom, a hardline evangelical law firm which battles against LGBT discrimination protections.
Details of his speech had been kept secret, and press was barred from attended the event. But the full speech has now been published by The Federalist.
In his speech he said he would implement guidelines which abide by the the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a federal law which protected businesses which discriminated on religious grounds.
“The department is finalizing this guidance, and I will soon issue it,” Sessions said, adding that “if the federal government imposes a burden on somebody’s religious practice, it had better have a compelling reason.”
He added: “We will defend freedom of conscience resolutely…T hat is inalienable. That is our heritage.”
The US Attorney General also commended the Alliance Defending Freedom, saying: “While your clients vary from pastors to nuns to geologists, all of us benefit from your good work—because religious liberty and respect for religion have strengthened this country from the beginning.”
The organisation confirmed that Sessions words, as published, were what he said to 250 in attendance at the event.
Many had pressed the Justice Department to release Sessions’ speech.
David Dinielli, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said: “How can we trust that the nation’s top law enforcement officer will protect all Americans when he’s willing to meet behind closed doors with a group that supports criminalizing homosexuality and marginalizing LGBT people around the world?
“The Alliance Defending Freedom has rightfully earned its designation as a hate group by demonizing LGBT people.
“If Attorney General Jeff Sessions doesn’t condone such beliefs, he should immediately make his remarks to the group public and be prepared to defend them.
“The LGBT community – as well as all Americans – needs to know if he is capable of upholding our country’s fundamental promise of equal protection under the law.”
The Democrats also pressed Sessions over the speech.
Joel Kasnetz of the Democratic National Committee said: “You can judge a person by the company they keep and tonight – Attorney General Jeff Sessions is choosing to spend his time speaking in front of one of the country’s leading anti-LGBTQ hate groups.
“The Alliance Defending Freedom actively helped draft discriminatory legislation, worked to preserve laws criminalizing same-sex relations, and attacked the separation of church and state.
“ADF has been previously designated a hate group and Sessions’ appearance at this event, as the top law enforcement official in the country, brings in to question whether the attorney general intends to protect all Americans.”
Though the ADF is framing the baker case around a religious objection to same-sex marriage, their other cases show a much wider support for anti-LGBT discrimination.
For instance, they have sued a school district over a transgender non-discrimination policy, and defended a T-shirt printer who refused an order from a Pride celebration.
Sessions’ heartfelt engagement with the ADF appears to be a massive conflict of interest, given the President recently tasked him with heading a supposed ‘review’ of religious liberty protections.
Earlier this year Trump signed an order tasking Sessions with “issuing guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in Federal law”.
Draft plans leaked from inside the White House previously included protections for people who discriminate based on “the belief that marriage is or should be recognised as the union of one man and one woman”.
Sessions is a strongly anti-LGBT former Republican Senator who co-sponsored the so-called ‘First Amendment Defence Act’.
His bill would have prevented the federal government from taking action against a person “on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman”.
The ADF recently filed a lawsuit against a school district’s pro-transgender policy.
The law firm claimed the trans-inclusive bathroom policy constitutes sexual harassment and a privacy violation.
ADF’s Legal Counsel Kellie Fiedorek said: “Our laws and customs have long recognised that we shouldn’t have to undress in front of persons of the opposite sex.
“But now some schools are forcing our children into giving up their privacy rights.”