Attorney General Jeff Sessions claimed in a Wednesday interview that people of faith have a “fundamental right” to discriminate against LGBTQ people.
Sessions sat down with the Christian Broadcast Network to discuss Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case set to be heard by the Supreme Court in December. In 2012, a Christian bakery in Colorado turned away Charlie Craig and David Mullins, a same-sex couple who had requested a custom cake for their wedding.
The couple reported the case to the state’s civil rights commission and won, a decision that withstood numerous appeals by the shop’s owner, Jack Phillips.
But Sessions told the Christian Broadcast Network that Phillips has a First Amendment right to deny services to LGBTQ individuals if not doing so would conflict with his sincerely held religious beliefs.
“I would just say to you that too often we have ignored what the Constitution actually says,” the former Alabama Senator said in an interview with David Brody of CBN’s Faith Nation. “It says Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a religion nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Sessions added that the question is whether or not Phillips “has more than just a personal view here.”
“He has a religious view and he feels that he is not being able to freely exercise his religion by being required to participate in a ceremony in some fashion that he does not believe in,” he claimed. “So we think that right is a fundamental right and ought to be respected as we work through this process.”
The Department of Justice previously filed a “friend of court” brief in support of Phillips in September.
“Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here,” wrote Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., adding that forcing people of faith to serve same-sex couples “demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied.”
Sessions underlined this view in a Friday memo from the DOJ promoting “religious liberty.”
“[N]o one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law,” the Attorney General wrote. “Therefore, to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, religious observance should be reasonably accommodated in all government activity, including employment, contracting and programming.”
In the CBN interview, Sessions denied that this order amounts to a “right to discriminate” against LGBTQ people.
“It sets a tone and a direction and guidance for every one of those government agencies, some of them I think in years past have gone too far in constricting free exercise of religion,” the former Alabama Supreme Court justice claimed, adding that the Trump administration’s goal is to further a “traditional view” of the U.S. Constitution.
“It’s this umbrella of law and the Constitution that protects us,” he continued. “Otherwise, you get to the point where nothing is firm. There’s no wall of protection for anyone, whether they’re liberal or conservative, secular or religious.”
On the same day Sessions issued his “religious liberty” memo, the White House announced it would be rolling back protections for transgender federal employees.