The memos were issued in response to an executive order signed by President Trump in May, declaring, "It shall be the policy of the executive branch to vigorously enforce federal law's robust protections for religious freedom" and instructing the attorney general to "issue guidance interpreting religious-liberty protections in federal law".
The memo, which dovetailed with another rule from President Donald Trump's administration Friday that extended exceptions from the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate to religiously affiliated organizations, gives guidance across federal agencies about a new series of stances on religious expression.
The guidance says the government can not unduly burden people or certain businesses from practicing their faith, noting, "The free exercise of religion includes the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one's religious beliefs".
The religious objection order lifts the burden of proof from religious objectors who claim their beliefs about marriage or other issues have not been upheld. "Freedom of religion is paramount to our nation's success, but does give people the right to impose their beliefs on others, to harm other, or to discriminate". "It is countenancing exercises of faith in a way that will harm other individuals".
Because of a new interim final rule announced October 6 by the Trump administration, clients of First Liberty are now exempt from the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate, which forced businesses, ministries, and other non-profit organizations to reject their religious beliefs and moral convictions or violate the law.
The guidelines are seen as potentially undermining protections for LGBTI people since religious freedom is often used as a justification for LGBTI discrimination.
"RFRA applies to all sincerely held religious beliefs, whether or not central to, or mandated by, a particular religious organization or tradition".
Today's guidance by Jeff Sessions proves this Administration will do anything possible to categorize LGBTQ Americans as second-class citizens who are not equal under the law.
The administration first announced on Friday an expansion of religious and moral exemptions to the HHS contraceptive mandate, over which many non-profit groups and some for-profit businesses had sued the federal government. 'The White House says the guidance "does not authorize anyone to discriminate" - and Lambda Legal will make sure it doesn't'.
'It opens the door for discrimination in the workplace and public services, flying in the face of the majority of Americans of whom over 70 percent believe laws should protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, ' Isaacs said.
He outlined as examples that religious entities may not be excluded from secular aid programs-in reference to the June U.S. Supreme Court decision in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer-and may not be prohibited from distributing religious materials simply due to their content.
"Today the Trump-Pence administration launched an all-out assault on LGBTQ people, women, and other minority communities by unleashing a sweeping license to discriminate", Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said. Then-Attorney General Eric Holder's 2014 position on the matter was that the word "sex" in the statute "extends to claims of discrimination based on an individual's gender identity, including transgender status".
The memo makes clear the Justice Department's support of that opinion in noting that the primary religious freedom law - the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 - protects the rights not only of people to worship as they choose but also of corporations, companies and private firms.
Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said while the guidance does not change any laws or enact new rules, it forecasts the stance the Trump administration will take in ongoing or future litigation. Unfortunately, to the extent that the guidance defines existing law as permitting discrimination, that is a meaningless assurance.