July 30, 2018— Earlier today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the establishment of a Religious Liberty Task Force within the Department of Justice, which would aid in the implementation of the department’s religious guidance set forth in the DOJ’s Federal Protections for Religious Freedom Memo issued last year. Built in response to, in Sessions’ words, a “dangerous movement” against traditional religious freedom, the creation of this task force is an unsettling step in the movement against LGBTQ workplace equality. In his announcement, Sessions directly referenced the case in which Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, as a violation of religious freedom and rationale for building the taskforce itself.
This speech comes in the wake of last year’s memo from the DOJ which purported that Title VII of the Civil Rights of 1964 does not protect transgender individuals from discrimination in the workplace.
While religion remains a protected class under federal law, sexual orientation and gender identity (in terms of its application to transgender identity) are not. LGBTQ Americans have historically been and continue to be at great risk of discrimination in the workplace, particularly in regions of the country where religious sentiment is higher—yet they continue to remain unprotected under federal law. Session’s statement and creation of the task force puts LGBTQ Americans at further risk for discrimination and is an obvious front for biased against LGBTQ employees.
This action taken by the Department of Justice further blurs lines between acceptable behavior and discrimination. Yet, the intentions are clear. This administration does not have the best interest of the LGBTQ community in mind. While Sessions—who will serve as the co-chair of this taskforce and has a documented history of anti-LGBTQ sentiment—has cited shifting culture and the backlash against religious discrimination as “a dangerous movement,” the creation of this task force can be easily seen as “a dangerous movement” towards the erasure of non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ individuals in the workplace.
As a reminder, the majority of Americans support federal law protecting LGBTQ individuals from discrimination in the workplace. One in four LGBTQ Americans have experienced discrimination in the workplace. LGBTQ Americans continue to stand the risk of losing their jobs in 28 states for sexual orientation and in 30 states for gender identity. A central theme in opposition towards LGBTQ identity is religion—and it is the basis of much of the discrimination LGBTQ people face. The dangerous movement is not one against religion, it’s one against the LGBTQ community.
Out & Equal will continue to monitor the development of this taskforce.