Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the creation of a Religious Liberty Task Force at the U.S. Department of Justice on Monday morning.
Sessions, speaking at the DOJ’s Religious Liberty Summit said, “The Task Force will help the Department fully implement our religious liberty guidance by ensuring that all Justice Department components are upholding that guidance in the cases they bring and defend, the arguments they make in court, the policies and regulations they adopt, and how we conduct our operations. That includes making sure that our employees know their duties to accommodate people of faith.”
He said Associate Attorney General Jesse Pannuccio and Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy Beth Williams will co-chair the task force.
During his remarks, he highlighted the ways the Department of Justice has protected people of faith from unjust persecution.
“In January, we filed a brief in a Montana court to defend parents who claim that the state barred their children from a private school scholarship program because they attend a religious school,” he said.
“We also filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., which was refused advertising space for having a religious message—including “joy to the world” on Merry Christmas,” he noted. “And, of course, we were proud to file a brief in support of Jack Phillips.”
In June, Sessions announced the Place of Worship Initiative. Its focus is on protecting the ability of houses of worship and other religious institutions to build, expand, buy, or rent facilities as provided by the land use provisions of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) of 2000.
“Under this initiative, the Department of Justice is holding public events across America and improving training for federal prosecutors about legal protections for houses of worship,” Sessions said discussing the initiative during his remarks this morning.
Last fall, Sessions also released guidance on federal law protections for religious liberty today. He also sent a memo to Justice Department component heads and U.S. Attorneys instructing them on how the guidance applies to the department.
The task force is meant to be the “next step” in the Department of Justice’s actions to protect the safety and liberty of people of faith in the United States.
“This administration is animated by that same American view that has led us for 242 years: that every American has a right to believe, worship, and exercise their faith in the public square,” Sessions said.
“This approach has served this country well. We are perhaps the most religiously developed nation in the world and can take pride in respecting all people as they fully exercise their faiths.
“It is clear that these policies have furthered peace, prosperity, freedom, lawfulness, and clarity,” Sessions noted. “As our nation grows older, we must not let it depart from this magnificent tradition.”
Alliance Defending Freedom commended Monday’s announcement.
“Religious liberty is our most precious gift as humans and our most cherished and protected freedom as Americans. We highly commend President Trump and Attorney General Sessions for following through on the most vital promises of their public service: the preservation and protection of religious liberty. Too many of the clients ADF represents are risking their businesses, their life savings, and their safety to follow their conscience,” Kristen Waggoner, ADF’s Vice President of U.S. Legal Division, said in a released statement.
“All Americans should be free to peacefully live and act consistent with their convictions and faith without threat of government punishment. Freedom of speech and religion aren’t subject to political and cultural whims; they are constitutional guarantees, and we are grateful that this administration recognizes that reality and is taking serious steps to correct injustice and protect the freedom of religion,” she added.