Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Friday the Trump administration will not treat religious individuals as an “afterthought” and vowed that the Justice Department will get involved in more cases regarding freedom of religion.
Mr. Sessions’ remarks came at a meeting of the Council for National Policy, a conservative networking organization founded in 1981.
“The threats to religious freedom are threats to our First Amendment right to freedom of speech,” Mr. Sessions told the group.
In October, the Justice Department issued a directive to give religious organizations and individuals stronger protections to express their beliefs, even when they conflict with government regulations.
The directive was criticized because it provided stronger protections for employers making hiring decisions based on their religious faith. Some claimed the directive would lead to discrimination against individuals whose sexual orientation clashed with their employers’ faith.
The department directive came on the heels of the Trump administration announcing it would expand religious exemptions for employers who object to providing insurance coverage for birth control.
Former Sen. Sam Brownback was confirmed in February as the United States’ ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. Mr. Brownback is the first former politician and first Catholic to hold that position, which has existed through previous administrations.
“The Trump administration understand the value of free religious expression,” Mr. Sessions told the crowd.
The Justice Department has also become fairly active in defending religious liberty cases under the Trump administration. Earlier this year, the department filed court papers alleging that Georgia Gwinnett College violated the constitutional rights of a student who claimed he was told he couldn’t distribute fliers promoting his Christian faith in a campus open space. In its 26-page statement of interest, the department said the students’ right to free speech was violated.
Mr. Sessions emphasized the link between freedom of speech and freedom of religion, two constitutional protections, in his speech Friday.
“I would argue that free expression of religious views and values is doubly protected in the First Amendment,” he said.