Jeff Sessions' Religious Liberty Task Force Is Disguised Bigotry

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In a speech yesterday at the Religious Liberty Summit, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the creation of a Religious Liberty Task Force, ostensibly to uphold last year's religious guidance that ensured government officials would not suffer from religious persecution. In reality, the Task Force itself is a nasty bit of victim-shaming that stands to do great damage to minorities across the nation.

Like all good Christian Republicans, Sessions knows how to play the victim card to make himself seem like the persecuted minority. “A dangerous movement, undetected by many, is now challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom," said Sessions. "It must be confronted and defeated.”

He never explained who makes up this movement or identified it by name, instead citing examples of how it threatens people of faith: nuns are now forced to buy contraceptives, Trump nominees for the judicial bench are accused of adhering to dogma (most likely referring to Senator Dianne Feinstein's remarks to judicial nominee Amy Coney Barrett that "dogma lives loudly in you"), and bakers in Colorado who don't want to bake cakes for gay weddings are being smeared as bigots. Jack Phillips, the baker who won a Supreme Court victory defending his right to turn away gay couples who ask for his services, was mentioned twice in the speech, once for his bravery in facing this ordeal, and again when he said he was "proud" to file a brief in his support.

The task force, which will be run by Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio and Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy Beth Williams, will uphold the religious liberty guidance of 2017 by:

“Ensuring that all [DOJ] components are upholding that guidance in the cases they bring and defend, the arguments they make in court, the policies and regulations they adopt, and how we conduct our operations. That includes making sure that our employees know their duties to accommodate people of faith.”

In a fair administration, a task force like this one would go both ways, ensuring that both Christians and Muslims, or other religious minorities, had the right to express their beliefs without facing discrimination. It would also protect victims of prosecution from bigotry, like the gay couples Jack Phillips refused to serve. But, like Phillips, Sessions uses his religion as a vehicle to justify and protect bigotry, vilifying those who call it what it is.

According to the Pew Research Center, Christians make up the largest percentage of religious Americans, at 70%, so they can't be called a minority by any stretch of the imagination. Given that the media amplifies the most heinous Christians, like Roy Moore, and the Evangelical community's embrace of Donald Trump, it seems like Sessions, a Methodist, speaks for all Christians with these bromides. But the reality is quite different, and a closer look at the numbers may provide a glimpse as to why he's playing this game.

A 2017 PRRI study called "America's Changing Religious Identity" reveals some interesting statistics regarding Christianity and diversity of religion in the United States. While Christianity is still the majority religion, it is down in most places. In 2007, 39 states had white-Christian-majority populations: now only 23 states do. White Christians themselves have gone from 81% white/Christian and 55% white Protestant to 43% and 30% of the population, with white Catholics dropping from 16-11% in that time. And Sessions' home state of Alabama is the second-least religiously diverse state in the country, with only Mississippi beating it.

Simultaneously, while the religious population of the United States may be shrinking as a whole, ethnic diversity among religions is on the rise. 15% of Americans identify as non-white Protestant: African-Americans at 8%, Hispanics at 4%, and Asians/mixed-race/other at 3%. The majority of Catholics under the age of 30 in this country (52%) are Hispanic, and about a third of all Catholics are Hispanic (36%), making up 7% of the total population in the US. And what's more, 75% of African-Americans in the United States identify as Christian.

With these numbers in mind, it's easier to understand the Religious Liberty Task Force. As the country faces an oncoming demographic time bomb that will make whites a minority of the population, Sessions and others like him want to engage in scorched-earth policies, decimating our current governmental infrastructure and minority populations so that, by the time these minorities become the majority, they will face even more hurdles in attaining equal rights.

"Government shouldn't impugn people's motives or beliefs," Sessions said in his speech, and he's right. But it's clear that he will use the government to impugn on the motives and beliefs of people who don't look like him.

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