Sessions ends transgender workplace protections

Sunday, 08 Oct, 2017

Attorney Gen. Jeff Sessions is instructing all federal agencies to ensure to the "greatest extent practicable and permitted by law" that the religious beliefs of people, businesses, churches and other organizations are accommodated and not burdened by the federal government.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits covered employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of their religion.

An early draft of a order was also leaked from inside the White House showed plans to protect people who discriminate based on "the belief that marriage is or should be recognised as the union of one man and one woman [or that] male and female refer to an individual's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy at birth". The Department's position is contrary to the current guidance from the EEOC, which has stated definitively that it interprets, and will enforce accordingly, Title VII's prohibition on sex discrimination as encompassing employment discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Politico reports that the ACLU and California attorney general Xavier Becerra will sue to block the rules from going into effect, and you can expect their ultimate fate to be tied up in the court system for the foreseeable future.

Though the principles are lofty - and some of them in no way objectionable - they could have broad negative impact, permitting religious groups to impinge on the rights of LGBT people and others, civil liberties advocates said.

The new Justice Department guidance takes a muscular view of religious freedom rights, but officials said that the document is a neutral description of existing law and not an effort to weigh in on particular policy issues.

For example, if the Justice Department's suggested interpretation of RFRA is correct, a hotel could argue that providing service to Muslim or Jewish customers violates the owner's faith and that the hotel should be exempt from complying with federal law barring such discrimination.

"Today's DOJ memo is a road map for federal agencies: guiding them to discriminate against women and LGBT people", Tiven said. Here, the administration has weighed the free exercise rights of employers against the rights of employees to be free from sex-based discrimination, and has decided that the former is more important than the latter. However, Sessions' action is predicated on the notion that Title VII of the 1964 civil rights law exclusively covers cisgender individuals.

"The government may be able to meet that [legal] standard with respect to race discrimination. but may not be able to with respect to other forms of discrimination", Sessions' memo says.

He instructed the US attorneys to "implement an enhanced violent crime reduction program that incorporates the lessons learned since the original program's launch in 2001 and leverages new strategies to help turn the tide against violent crime". Neither President Trump nor Jeff Sessions can change the law, but they are determined to sow confusion and put their seal of approval on discrimination.

However, at the state level in Oregon, transgender people are protected against discrimination by the Oregon Equality Act of 2007. The Sessions memo "doesn't legalize discrimination at all", scoffed one to Politico.

ADF has repeatedly disputed the Southern Poverty Law Center's "hate group" designation as "a lie" and criticized news organizations, including ABC News, who make reference to it.

Sessions is indeed wrong when it comes to the law - and when it comes to protecting basic human rights for all Americans.

"This license-to-discriminate memo invites illegal discrimination on a chilling new scale and attempts to open the door for carving certain communities, including transgender people, out of basic protections guaranteed by law", he said.