Sessions Praises Baker Who Refused to Make Cakes for Same-Sex Weddings, Launches Religious Freedom Task Force

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday announced the Department of Justice was creating a religious liberty task force.

In a speech at the Department of Justice's Religious Liberty Summit in Washington, Sessions said that the task force would be set up to implement religious liberty guidance released by the department last year.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at the Religious Liberty Summit at the Department of Justice, July 30, in Washington, D.C. Sessions announced that the Department of Justice was creating a task force implement religious liberty guidance released by the department in 2017. GettyImages

He claimed that a "dangerous movement, undetected by many, is now challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom. There can be no doubt. This is no little matter. It must be confronted and defeated."

He said that the right to freedom of religion was enshrined in the First Amendment, "but in recent years, the cultural climate in this country—and in the West more generally—has become less hospitable to people of faith. Many Americans have felt that their freedom to practice their faith has been under attack."

"And it's easy to see why. We've seen nuns ordered to buy contraceptives.

"We've seen U.S. senators ask judicial and executive branch nominees about dogma—even though the Constitution explicitly forbids a religious test for public office. We've all seen the ordeal faced so bravely by Jack Phillips."

In June, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Phillips, a Colorado baker, who had refused to make a cake for the wedding of a same-sex couple. The Court found that an official at the Civil Rights Commission, which had ruled against Phillips, had made comments hostile to religion.

The Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic Charity, successfully challenged an Obama-era mandate requiring the inclusion of contraceptives in health care coverage, which are forbidden under Catholic dogma.

Sessions praised President Donald Trump's campaign trail pledge that people would say "Merry Christmas" again, which he said had been phased out by "politically correct" officials.

"I believe this unease is one reason that he was elected. In substance, he said he respected people of faith and he promised to protect them in the free exercise of their faith. He declared we would say 'Merry Christmas' again."

The speech contained a thinly veiled jab at the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights nonprofit that has designated several religious organizations that it said spread anti-LGBTQ or anti-Islamic propaganda as hate groups.

"We have gotten to the point where courts have held that morality cannot be a basis for law; where ministers are fearful to affirm, as they understand it, holy writ from the pulpit; and where one group can actively target religious groups by labeling them a 'hate group' on the basis of their sincerely held religious beliefs," Sessions said.

Sessions's religious liberty memorandum was released last year after an executive order by Trump. It outlined how organizations were to interpret federal freedom of religion laws.

The commission will be chaired by Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio and Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy Beth Williams.