Jeff Sessions consulted at least one anti-LGBTQ hate group on ‘religious freedom’ guidance

The DOJ is mum about who it invited to its "listening sessions."

CREDIT: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
CREDIT: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

On Friday, the Department of Justice unveiled new guidance on “religious freedom” that constitute a sweeping invitation to discriminate against LGBTQ people. It turns out that Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with at least one anti-LGBTQ hate group to consult on the guidance — and likely more.

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) confirmed to reporters Friday that Sessions met with them in one of the “listening sessions” he convened. The DOJ has not released any information about the listening sessions or who was invited to them, but one of Sessions’ memos describes them as “seeking suggestions regarding the areas of federal protection for religious liberty most in need of clarification or guidance from the Attorney General.” ADF CEO Michael Farris was thrilled by the announcement, boasting in a statement how it will help protect ADF clients with anti-LGBTQ beliefs.

This isn’t the first evidence that the DOJ is cozy with ADF. Sessions spoke at an ADF conference in June, where he thanked them for their “important work” and promised them the guidance was coming. The DOJ has also sided with ADF in its current Supreme Court case, defending the baker held accountable under Colorado state law for refusing service to a same-sex couple.

While it’s unclear who else the DOJ had looped in to its listening sessions, it’s unlikely that ADF was the only anti-LGBTQ hate group included. The Family Research Council (FRC) was all too ready for the guidance, announcing Friday — simultaneous with its praise for the guidance — that it was launching “a web hotline for those who believe that they have suffered discrimination at the hands of federal agencies based on their religious beliefs or practices.”

FRC claims to have partnered with “two highly regarded non-profit legal groups” to review the submissions it receives on the hotline. ThinkProgress inquired as to the identity of those legal groups, but had not received a response by time of publication. The hotline is branded under FRC’s “Free To Believe” campaign, which highlights cases of people who’ve supposedly been persecuted for their religious beliefs — a preponderance of whom are individuals who have openly rejected LGBTQ people or outright discriminated against them. Many of the individuals in those cases have been represented by ADF, while some others have been represented by the Liberty Counsel, First Liberty Institute, and Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. All four have defended anti-LGBTQ clients in the name of “religious freedom,” making them likely suspects for FRC’s partners.

That FRC would have been ready for the guidance is no surprise. The group’s president, Tony Perkins, is a regular at the White House, and took personal credit for encouraging President Trump to take action to ban transgender people from serving in the military.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has branded groups like ADF and FRC “hate groups” for their invidious campaigns against LGBTQ equality. Anti-LGBTQ groups try to attack the SPLC to undermine these designations, but they never actually respond to the evidence the SPLC provides, such as ADF’s support for criminalizing homosexuality and FRC’s claims that gay people are more likely to be pedophiles. While claiming to represent “mainstream values,” these groups are on the front lines fighting against LGBTQ equality, and they have the ear of the White House.

When it comes to issues of faith, the White House is largely only listening to conservative evangelical Christians, which is exactly who ADF and FRC represent. Many religious leaders from other traditions are joining civil rights groups in condemning the “religious freedom” guidance for attempting to justify discrimination.