Terry H. Schwadron
Oct. 7, 2017
In a pair of decisions announced on Thursday and yesterday, Sessions made sweeping gestures to tell other government agencies to stand aside when it comes to enforcing laws for civil behavior in favor of supporting evangelical Christian groups who object to same-sex marriage and transgender employment rights. And the first move thereafter was a doozy — making it easier for employers to avoid paying for health coverage of contraceptives.
O Lord, whither dost Thou allow such bad government behavior in Thy Name?
Ever since Donald Trump stood in the Rose Garden and promised a group of evangelical clergymen who surrounded him that the government would do what it could to help out in expressions of religious fervor even when it ran in the face of civil rights, folks have been waiting to see these announcements.
Jeff Sessions waded right into, not onto, those waters, though in most cases, it will be other federal departments that take actions — or stop taking actions — to enforce appropriate laws that would favor same-sex or transgender rights over the sensibilities of those claiming religious conflict with the law. Those agencies, in turn, will decide where these guidelines affect their specialty areas and how vigorously to support them.
The Justice Department decided, for example, that transgender people are not protected by civil rights legislation barring workplace discrimination based on sex because no court has yet fully defined what “sex” means. So rather than lean in favor of defending individuals who are hurt by their workplace, the Justice Department is signing up to take the side those workplaces. Officially, of course, the order rescinds the opposite point of view during the Obama administration, one that extended civil rights protections to transgender people.
So the Justice Department will end its representation of a transgender person in an Oklahoma lawsuit filed using civil rights laws. Perhaps more importantly, the Equal Employment Opportunity commission will now be expected to sit out cases in which employment issues involving transgender people who perceive that they are being treated unequally are involved.
Yesterday’s ruling to federal agencies was a boost to religious objection in general. Anything the government does that does not comport with claims of religious or moral grounds could be exempted. Entitled “Protections for Religious Liberty,” the directive to agencies never spells out the targets, but makes clear that the Trump administration is finding new ways to help religious organizations with their objections.
In other words, the Trumpists wrapped a pattern of objection to services in support of same-sex marriage, for example, in a patriotic banner for freedom of religion. So, the baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex marriage he found objectionable — the case now pending before the Supreme Court — would be backed by the power of the Justice Department now.
Sessions also noted that interfering with the rights of an association expressing religious objection is something that the government will not support. It suggests that there might be no repercussions if a university, for example, were to accept federal grants but refuse LBGTQ students.
So, it took the Trump administration little time yesterday to sharply limit the coverage for contraceptives under Obamacare by announcing that employers could be exempt from the mandated coverage if they have religious objection. Several religious groups who hire employees, including a group of nuns, Catholic hospitals and universities, had objected to being forced to offer health care offering contraceptives. One challenge heard by the U.S. Supreme Court resulted in a decision to allow Hobby Lobby, a crafts company, to be exempted from the contraceptives policy.
Objections are sure to end in more courtroom battles. In the meantime, there will be more pregnancies and more cost for women, in particular, who want contraceptives.
There is more to read into the Justice Department memos, which are on the DOJ.gov website, because the orders are quite extensive. But the meaning and sport are clear from the get-go. This is a broadside attack in the culture wars, and a declaration of active acceptance of views counter to the emergent civil rights issues of our generation.
In whatever way you have possible, get out and object mightily.