DOJ issues ‘license to discriminate’

The long-feared federal “license to discriminate” has finally surfaced.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday issued a “Memorandum on Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty,” which has widely been viewed as a target on LGBT people. In a statement, the DOJ said it identified 20 “high-level principles that administrative agencies and executive departments can put to practical use to ensure the religious freedoms of Americans are lawfully protected.”

LGBT advocates said the guidance could allow federal employees and contractors to deny services to LGBT people based on their individual religious beliefs, a license also given to federally funded agencies.

“The guidance is meant to ‘protect’ the anti-LGBTQ child-welfare worker who’s opposed to placing young people in foster care with a lesbian couple,” National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey said in a statement. “It’s meant to ‘protect’ the transphobic shelter worker who refuses to give a transgender person a place to sleep for the night. It’s meant to ‘protect’ the anti-Semitic restaurant owner who doesn’t want to serve a Jewish customer. It’s meant to ‘protect’ the pharmacist who wants to make decisions for others and refuses to administer birth control. The list goes on.”

“This blatant attempt to further Donald Trump’s cynical and hateful agenda will enable systematic, government-wide discrimination that will have a devastating impact on LGBTQ people and their families,” added Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin  in a statement. “Donald Trump and Mike Pence have proven they will stop at nothing to target the LGBTQ community and drag our nation backwards. We will fight them every step of the way.”

The memo came the same day as another directive from the Department of Health and Human Services that significantly broadened the criteria for organizations to opt out of providing contraceptive care to employees, and a day after another DOJ statement that trans workers are not covered by nondiscrimination protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a departure from the previous administration’s position.

“Despite claiming to support our community, Donald Trump has proved to be one of the country’s biggest threats to LGBTQ people,” said DNC spokesperson Joel Kasnetz. “Democrats support the right of LGBTQ people to live and work without fear of being fired or discriminated against simply because of who they are. It’s time for Sessions to stop using the Justice Department as a tool for division and discrimination.”

Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs and Commission on Human Relations said in a statement that the DOJ memos are “attacks are aimed at systematically eroding the legal equality and even the basic dignity of LGBTQ people, and they are a devastating step back from ensuring equal rights for all Americans.”

“We’ve been watching the steady ebb of our rights being washed away,” Carey added. “Today we’re standing in the flood.”