Written by Don Byrd

Today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo interpreting religious liberty protections in federal law. This follows a directive previously discussed in President Donald J. Trump’s Executive Order on religious liberty that was announced in a Rose Garden ceremony on May 4 of this year.

The memo, which was sent to all executive departments and agencies, outlines “twenty principles” that are purportedly designed to “guide administrative agencies and executive departments” in accommodating “religious observance and practice… in all government activity, including employment, contracting, and programming.”   

But, BJC General Counsel Holly Hollman suggests it may create more problems than it would solve. In a statement following the Department of Justice’s release, Hollman said:

In large part, the guidance restates much settled law, though with a decided tilt toward concerns of free exercise, giving short shrift to the government’s duty to avoid “no establishment” concerns. In a couple of areas, the guidance will exacerbate controversy. The guidance treats complicated legal issues, such as the definition of “substantial burden” on religious exercise and the interplay between religious autonomy and government funding, in an overly simplistic way.   

Read the Justice Department’s press release here and guidance here.

Also, you can read BJC Executive Director Amanda Tyler’s statement in response to the May 4 Executive Order, calling it “largely a symbolic act.”