Written by Don Byrd
Earlier this week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the creation of a new Religious Liberty Task Force, because of threats he sees to religious freedom. What are those threats? He cited cases involving the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act as well as Masterpiece Cakeshop, the closely watched dispute over the right to refuse a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. He also suggested that the Johnson Amendment – which prohibits non-profit organizations like houses of worship from officially endorsing candidates for office – was another reason why “[m]any Americans have felt that their freedom to practice their faith has been under attack.”
As the Baptist Joint Committee’s Executive Director Amanda Tyler pointed out in a new column responding to the announcement, Sessions’ view of how religious liberty works in a pluralistic society is remarkably narrow. And he left out almost entirely, she notes, any mention of the Establishment Clause, which prohibits government from promoting religion.
Here is an excerpt from her important column:
Sessions stated in his prepared remarks at the summit that “a dangerous movement, undetected by many, is now challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom.” I agree that we find ourselves in a perilous moment, but I fear that what is most in jeopardy is widespread support for religious liberty for all. And the actions of this administration, including the announcement of a one-sided Religious Liberty Task Force, are only exacerbating the problem. In aligning the government closely with a narrow viewpoint on religious freedom – which fails to balance concern for protection of the rights of others with the right to exercise one’s religion – the Trump administration is sowing division where there should be unity on our first freedom.