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Report: Trump Guidelines Promote Religious Liberty for Select Few

President Donald Trump's executive order in May 2017 instructed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in Federal law.” (Getty Images)
President Donald Trump's executive order in May 2017 instructed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in Federal law.” (Getty Images)
April 6, 2018

DENVER – The Trump administration's guidelines allowing what it calls "religious exemptions" has opened the door for discrimination across dozens of federal agencies and programs, according to a new report – Liberty and Justice for a Select Few – from the Center for American Progress.

The guidelines limit enforcement of protections if government employees, or third parties that get federal funds, decide not to provide services if they feel it goes against their religious beliefs.

Study co-author Sharita Gruberg, associate director for the LGBT research and communications project at the center, says while freedom of religion is a core American value, her group's findings show the administration appears to be interested in securing those values for a select few.

"Namely those who have more conservative viewpoints, that are anti-women's reproductive rights, anti-LGTBQ equality,” says Gruberg. “Those are the very particular religious viewpoints that have been elevated by this administration."

Gruberg notes the guidelines, issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in October, are already having an impact. Earlier this week, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson reversed a discrimination ruling, claiming a colonel's refusal to recognize the same-sex spouse of a retiring master sergeant was justified based on his religious views.

Gruberg says under the guidelines, hospital workers could refuse to provide emergency contraception to sexual-assault survivors, and government contractors could deny housing to LGBT youth, if it conflicts with their religious beliefs. She argues that freedom of religion was meant to prevent government intrusion – but points out that those liberties have limits, especially when they infringe on the rights of others.

"And the problem with religious liberty as it's been interpreted by Jeff Sessions is that he's upholding religious viewpoints above other rights," says Gruberg.

The report says just because the administration is prioritizing religious liberty doesn't mean that it's legal. While some high-profile cases will be decided in court, Gruberg says it's also important for average Americans to sound the alarm if they experience discrimination.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO