This last Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave a talk to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a far-right Christian legal organization that has defended bakers who refuse to make same-sex wedding cakes, supports the criminalization of consensual same-sex intercourse and has helped create “bathroom bill” legislation to keep transgender people out of public restrooms.
Until a few days ago, we had no idea what Sessions said in his speech because both the ADF and the U.S. Justice Department had declined requests to release his full remarks. However, on Thursday, thefederalist.com published Session’s remarks. You can read them all, but we provide a succinct summary of its most important parts below.
So what did Sessions say to the anti-LGBTQ group?
In a way, the publication of his remarks provided a sigh of relief because his speech contained no overt mention of LGBTQ issues. However, they’re telling of the Trump administration’s constant need to reaffirm its relationship with anti-LGBTQ Christian conservatives. (Approximately 81% of Evangelical voters voted for Trump.)
Sessions begins his speech by thanking the ADF for “the important work that you do every day to uphold and protect the right to religious liberty in this country,” adding, “This is especially needed today.”
He then spends a great deal of time explaining the religious establishment of America, mentioning the state constitutions of the original thirteen U.S. colonies mentioned god and protected the free exercise of religion.
Near the end of this section, he quotes Martin Luther King, Jr. in connection to King’s battle against segregation.
“[King] said that we ‘must not seek to solve the problem’ of segregation merely for political reasons, but ‘in the final analysis, we must get rid of segregation because it is sinful.’ It undermined the promise, as he described it, that ‘each individual has certain basic rights that are neither derived from nor conferred by the state… they are gifts from the hands of the Almighty God.'”
This is interesting because the AFD is literally fighting for policies that seek to keep LGBTQ segregated from the larger community. It’s also interesting considering Sessions’ record of persecuting civil rights activists in Alabama who sought to register black voters during the ’80s.
Sessions overlooked the religious community’s current queerphobia
Sessions then says that Washington D.C. politicians have “no idea how much good is being done in this country every day by our faith communities,” stating, “They teach right behavior, they give purpose to life, and they support order, lawfulness and personal discipline while comforting the sick, supporting families and giving support to those in need.”
While this is true, some of those religious organizations also pressure state governments (sometimes with the AFD’s help) to allow them to refuse service to LGBTQ people — just like religious adoption agencies have done in Texas.
He goes onto say that “the cultural climate has become less hospitable to people of faith and to religious belief,” and says, “In recent years, many Americans have felt that their freedom to practice their faith has been under attack.”
Session promised to protect so-called “religious freedom”
While Sessions says, “America has never thought itself to be a theocracy,” he then goes on to say:
“This Department of Justice will never allow this secular government of ours to demand that sincere religious beliefs be abandoned. We will not require American citizens to give intellectual assent to doctrines that are contrary to their religious beliefs. And they must be allowed to exercise those beliefs as the First Amendment guarantees.”
Sessions may be alluding to Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case working its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court which may determine whether businesses can deny services to same-sex couples based on religious beliefs. The ADF will represent the bakery in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.
He may also be alluding to the religious liberty executive order that Trump signed in early May.
The executive order itself accomplished virtually nothing apart from instructing the Internal Revenue Service to not apply the 1954 Johnson Amendment, a law forbidding churches from participating in overtly political speech. However, churches have openly flouted the Johnson Amendment for decades without any governmental repercussions whatsoever.
The only real news from the speech
The only newsworthy thing Sessions said during the speech was this: “The president has also directed me to issue guidance on how to apply federal religious liberty protections. The department is finalizing this guidance, and I will soon issue it.”
We’ll be keeping an eye out for this guidance and it could impact the LGBTQ community’s continued relationship with anti-LGBTQ religious organizations.