Attorney General Jeff Sessions told members of the Alliance Defending Freedom that religious freedom is under attack in the U.S. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Jeff Sessions applauded a conservative Christian organization known for its opposition to LGBTQ causes on Tuesday for defending religious freedom amid a “changing cultural climate.”
Speaking at the
Summit on Religious Liberty in Dana Point, California, Sessions addressed members of the Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed a hate group.
Despite multiple news outlets’ requests, Sessions’ remarks
weren’t released until conservative website The Federalist published them on Thursday. A Department of Justice spokesperson confirmed the validity of the transcript to HuffPost on Friday.
The attorney general opened his speech by thanking the Alliance Defending Freedom ― whose founders have said that “homosexual behavior” and pedophilia are
“intrinsically linked” ― for the “important work” it does “to uphold and protect the right to religious liberty in this country.” The alliance sponsors litigation related to the First Amendment to protect religious freedom for Christians.
To illustrate recent examples of religious intolerance, Sessions referenced Harvard University law professor Mark V. Tushnet’s
2016 statement that conservative Christians had lost the “culture wars,” which quickly earned Tushnet a spot on conservative nonprofit organization Turning Point USA’s “watchlist” of liberal professors.
“Many Americans have felt that their freedom to practice their faith has been under attack. This feeling is understandable,” Sessions said.
Religious intolerance in the United States does appear to be on the rise, from growing
Islamophobia and the profiling of Sikh Americans who wear turbans to the desecration of Jewish cemeteries. However, Sessions’ speech did not specifically address these acts of hate.
He did, however, appear to touch on the concerns of some Christian groups and business owners who say religious freedom should include the right to
discriminate against LGBTQ people and women seeking access to reproductive rights.
“In all of this litigation and debate, this Department of Justice will never allow this secular government of ours to demand that sincere religious beliefs be abandoned,” Sessions said. “We will not require American citizens to give intellectual assent to doctrines that are contrary to their religious beliefs. And they must be allowed to exercise those beliefs as the First Amendment guarantees.”
The attorney general also said that President Donald Trump has directed him “to issue guidance on how to apply federal religious liberty protections,” which Sessions said he would soon be issuing.
Sessions has a
record of opposing LGBTQ rights. He voted for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and against taking up a bill providing LGBTQ people with protections from workplace discrimination. He was also a vocal opponent of repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that prohibited gay and lesbian people from serving openly in the military. Also on HuffPost Christian Musicians Come Out As Queer Being out in the Christian music industry could cost you your career. But in recent years, a number of queer Christian artists have taken that difficult step anyway. British rock star Vicky Beeching (pictured here), Everyday Sunday's Trey Pearson, and country singer Ty Herndon are a few. Christians Rally With Other Faith Groups For Transgender Rights In 2016, progressive religious activists strongly opposed North Carolina's HB2 bill, which tried to force people to use the bathroom of the gender they were assigned at birth. 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In 2013, the organization's president issued an apology for the harm it has caused to queer people and announced that the ministry was shutting down. Although other conversion therapy groups pledged to take up the mantle, Exodus International's closure was a pivotal moment for conservative Christians in America, and since then, many conservative leaders have actually denounced conversion therapy. The Chicago Consultation Meets In Africa The Chicago Consultation is a group of Episcopal and Anglican clergy and lay people who work toward full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians in the Anglican Communion. In 2015, the group had its third meeting in Africa, this time in Elmina, Ghana. The Rev. Broderick Greer, an Episcopal priest and queer theologian, described the important work of this group in an email to HuffPost. "Every day, I heard a new story about the ingenious ways they were resisting stigma around HIV/AIDS, LGBTQ visibility, and equitable access to health care. People from five different countries told stories of courage and resilience motivated by a nagging sense that their full humanity should and will be affirmed. The small scale and quiet setting of the gathering is indicative of the manner in which social transformation often takes place: over a drink, in a huddle, or elbow-to-elbow." Mormons March At Pride Mormons Building Bridges brings together members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who want to show support for the queer community. In 2012, this group marched at Utah Pride for the first time. For John Gustav-Wrathal, a gay Mormon activist, this was an iconic moment. "Since then, there have been some crushing, traumatizing moments as well. ... Most of the hope has come from queer Mormons themselves. Attendance at Affirmation conferences has quadrupled since 2012," he told HuffPost. "LGBT Mormons are coming together in a spectacular way and finding new ways to provide mutual support and engage with their faith." A Gay Couple Become The Pastors Of A Historic D.C. Church The Calvary Baptist Church in Washington hired Sally Sarratt and Maria Swearingen as the leaders of their 155-year-old congregation in 2017. The Baptist ministers told HuffPost their mission is "to sit at bedsides, to march for justice, to proclaim ‘belovedness’ when the world (sometimes even the religious world) proclaims ‘otherness,’ and to set the table of hospitality for those who need it most." Transgender Pastors Celebrate Mass In Cuba As part of a conference on queer theology in 2017, three pastors from Brazil, Canada and the United States flew into Cuba to lead an LGBTQ-friendly worship service. The mass is believed to be a first for Cuba. One participant, a 26-year-old Cuban trans woman named Malu Duardo, told Reuters, "I leave with having learnt a lot of things I can share with other trans, in particular that there is a God for everyone." Love HuffPost? Become a founding member of HuffPost Plus today. This article originally appeared on HuffPost.