Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Monday that the Department of Justice is creating a religious liberty task force.
It is co-chaired by Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio and the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Office of Legal Policy, Beth Williams. The task force will help implement President Trump’s executive order directing agencies to respect and protect religious liberty and political speech.
Sessions said on Monday that the task force will “ensure all Justice Department 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.”
Sessions spoke of “a dangerous movement” eroding religious liberties and that “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.”
The announcement came during the department’s religious liberty summit.
Sessions described how the Founding Fathers “gave religious expression a double protection in the First Amendment. Not only do we possess freedom to exercise our beliefs but we also enjoy the freedom of speech.
“Our Founders’ understanding of and commitment to religious freedom was truly brilliant as well as historic. It arose in large part from the principals delineated in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom—and its effective advocates: Madison and Jefferson.
“They clearly recognized that an individual’s relationship to God is a natural right and precedes the existence of the state, and is not subject to state control.
“These concepts were placed into our Constitution and laws and formed a national consensus that has greatly militated against religious hostility and violence—and has helped us to this day to be one of the world’s most diverse religious people.
“There can be no doubt that we are stronger as a nation because of the contribution of religious Americans.
“Every day across America, they feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, educate our young people, and care for the sick. They do so not because the government tells them to, but because they want to. They do these things because of their faith.
“Their faith provides something the state can never provide—meaning and purpose and joy in their life.
“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.”
The full text of Attorney General Sessions speech is available on the U.S. Department of Justice website.
From its beginnings, the Church of Scientology has recognized that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. In a world where conflicts are often traceable to intolerance of others’ religious beliefs and practices, the Church has, for more than 50 years, made the preservation of religious liberty an overriding concern.
The Church publishes this blog to help create a better understanding of the freedom of religion and belief and provide news on religious freedom and issues affecting this freedom around the world.