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PNS Daily Newscast - April 20, 2018 


The DOJ delivers the Comey memos to Congress. Also on our rundown: More evidence that rent prices are out of reach in many markets; Wisconsin counties brace for sulfide mining; and the Earth Day focus this weekend in North Dakota is on recycling.

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Report: New Federal Guidelines Threaten Freedoms for Some Groups

President Donald Trump's executive order in May 2017 instructed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to "issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in Federal law." (Matt Johnson/flickr)
President Donald Trump's executive order in May 2017 instructed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to "issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in Federal law." (Matt Johnson/flickr)
April 9, 2018

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — New guidelines from the Trump administration that claim to protect religious freedoms may actually infringe on more freedoms than they protect.

A new report from the Center for American Progress found the "religious exemptions" open the door for discrimination across dozens of federal agencies and programs. The guidelines limit enforcement of protections if government employees, or third parties that get federal funds, decide not to provide services because 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 for American Progress, said while freedom of religion is a core American value, her group's findings show the administration appears to be interested in securing those values only for a select few.

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

Gruberg said the guidelines, issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in October, already are having an impact. Last 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 said under the guidelines, hospital workers could refuse to provide emergency contraception to sexual assault survivors and government contractors could deny housing to LGBT youths, if it conflicted with their religious beliefs. She argued that freedom of religion was meant to prevent government intrusion, but pointed out 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,” she said.

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

Stephanie Carson/Roz Brown, Public News Service - NC