On Wednesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivered a powerful speech in defense of religious liberty. Speaking at the 2018 Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) summit on religious liberty, Sessions underscored the Trump administration's dedication to defending the human right of religious freedom in the United States and abroad.
The AG's remarks echo the administration's recent actions in relation to the launch of the groundbreaking Religious Liberty Task Force and the Department of Justice's crucial backing on supremely influential First Amendment cases like Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission and NIFLA v. Becerra by filing supporting briefs.
"The First Amendment," declared Sessions, "actually gives religious expression a double protection in the supreme law of the land. Not only do we possess freedom to exercise our beliefs but we also enjoy the freedom of speech."
"We’ve seen the ordeal faced bravely by Jack Phillips. He simply refused to yield his beliefs," noted the AG. Phillips and religious liberty recently won out at the Supreme Court after the baker was persecuted for refusing to make a specialty cake for a same-sex wedding.
Sessions, though, did hint that Phillips will be headed back to court. "And perhaps most tragically," he said, "I hear that his ordeal is far from over." The Christian baker spent six long years fighting in the courts before his Supreme Court win.
The AG noted the growing "new hostility" toward people of faith in the United States, calling out the highly discredited Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) by name.
"People of faith are facing a new hostility. Really, a bigoted ideology which is founded on animus towards people of faith. You’ll notice that they don’t rely on the facts. They don’t make better arguments. They don’t propose higher ideals. No, they just call people names — like 'hate group,'" he said.
"When I spoke to ADF last year, I learned that the Southern Poverty Law Center had classified ADF as a 'hate group,'" continued Sessions. "Many in the media simply parroted it as fact. Amazon relied solely on the SPLC designation and removed ADF from its Smile program, which allows customers to donate to charities."
The SPLC was recently sued by liberal Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz, whom they wrongly labeled an "anti-Muslim extremist." The organization had to pay $3.375 million to Nawaz and Quilliam magazine.
Sessions did, however, commend the center for previous work. For example, the SPLC brought a case Sessions successfully prosecuted in Alabama years ago. The case put a Klansman in jail and bankrupted the racist organization within the state.
Now the SPLC uses their "hate group" label "as a weapon and they have wielded it against conservative organizations that refuse to accept their orthodoxy and choose instead to speak their conscience. They use it to bully and intimidate groups like yours which fight for the religious freedom, the civil rights, and the constitutional rights of others," he said.
"I wanted to come back here tonight partly because I wanted to say this: you are not a hate group," stated Sessions emphatically.
ADF has an impressive 9-0 record at the Supreme Court in the past seven years, noted the AG. "That’s an impressive record. These are not fringe beliefs that you’re defending. You endeavor to affirm the Constitution and American values," he said.
"I am not going to apologize for the United States of America or our First Amendment. I am not ashamed of this country or our people. This is the greatest, most generous country in the history of the world," he added.
Sessions highlighted the growing fear of the polite persecution of religious people. Americans are asking themselves, "How much longer until I am in Jack Phillips’ position?" said the AG. "How much longer until the state, the media, the academy, the tech companies, or the global corporations come down on me because of my beliefs?"
"President Donald Trump has heard these concerns," he said. "Unlike some, he is not afraid of the name-calling and the fake news. He has endured relentless media attacks in order to speak up for the forgotten people of this country. He made a promise — and from day one of this administration he has delivered.He is defending religious freedom at home and abroad."
Earlier this month, the administration took action to fight for a Christian pastor wrongly imprisoned in Turkey, according to the administration. "The Treasury Department sanctioned Turkey’s Minister of Justice and Minister of the Interior, both of whom played leading roles in the arrest of American pastor Andrew Brunson," he said.
"Since January 2017, we have obtained 11 indictments and eight convictions in cases involving arson or other attacks or threats against houses of worship. Our Civil Rights Division has also obtained 13 indictments in other attacks or threats against people because of their religion. And we are not slowing down," boasted Sessions, adding, "Yesterday, we obtained a life sentence for a man who murdered an Indian-American man — a Sikh as it turned out — because he thought he was Muslim."
"We intend to keep winning," declared Sessions. "We will not be intimidated, of that you can be sure."
"Under President Donald Trump, we are going to continue to uphold the Founders’ tradition of religious liberty — and we will keep defending the rights of the American people," closed the AG.