Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Monday afternoon that the Department of Justice has established a new task force to ensure the enforcement of the Trump administration’s religious-liberty guidelines issued last year.
In his remarks, Sessions pointed to the Obama administration’s coercive contraceptive mandate, which forced the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of charitable Catholic nuns — as well as countless other religious employers — to subsidize birth control for employees. Sessions also alluded to the incident last year when Democratic senators asked Seventh Circuit court nominee Amy Coney Barrett about whether her Catholic faith would preclude her from serving as a successful judge.
The response from many segments of the left to Sessions’s announcement was predictably melodramatic, and the unfounded, vitriolic attacks against this task force — and on the fundamental value of religious liberty — are excellent evidence of how necessary it is to have such an enforcement mechanism to protect religious Americans.
For one thing, several prominent commentators slammed religious-liberty protections as existing to shield only Christianity — or even as an effort to sanction the supposed bigotry of conservative Christians. Completely ignored by these malevolent pundits is the fact that religious Americans, no matter what sect or denomination they belong to, can file a complaint with the Justice Department for violations of their religious free exercise.
This new task force — and the Department of Justice behind it — will protect the rights of any and all religious Americans who have been fired, sanctioned, or otherwise punished for exercising their faith, or who have been coerced into violating their conscience. No part of that mission is limited to social conservatives or to Christian Americans, nor is there any evidence that religious-liberty protections have been enforced only in cases of discrimination against Christians.
These types of blindly partisan reactions reveal the sinister motivations of many on the left, who redefine religious liberty as bigotry in order to gain political points with their progressive base. The Democratic National Committee, for example, called Sessions’s announcement today “the latest assault in this administration’s continued campaign against LGBTQ people and our civil rights” and accused the attorney general of “shamefully doubling down on bigotry.”
Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood insisted that “‘religious liberty’” (in scare quotes, unsurprisingly) is “another license to discriminate,” while NARAL used the announcement as an opportunity to push a pro-abortion narrative:
Make no mistake—this "Religious Liberty Task Force" is another extremist attempt to deny people the care and services that they need. The Trump admin is out to refuse abortion care, birth control access, and LGBTQ-inclusive care to the American people. https://t.co/5hTIuNepvs
— NARAL (@NARAL) July 30, 2018
Others, with no evidence whatsoever, advanced the common progressive argument that religious-liberty protections are nothing more than a smokescreen so that Christians can ignore or evade non-discrimination laws. One particularly unhinged left-wing commentator took this idea just a bit further:
We must be very blunt about the creation of the Religious Liberty Task Force: It's another huge step forward in the Trump Regime's creation of a regressive Christian white ethnostate.
And if that sounds like hyperbole to you, you're not paying attention.
— Melissa McEwan (@Shakestweetz) July 30, 2018
While this last observation is evidently outside the mainstream Left, progressive politicians and commentators seem increasingly intent on coping with the Trump presidency by exploiting cultural tension for their political or rhetorical advantage. According to the DNC’s statement, for instance, the new task force “is further proof that Republicans continue to push forward an agenda completely out of step with the American people and our values.” Wholly ignored are religious Americans targeted by policies such as the HHS mandate and non-Christian, non-conservative Americans who are equally protected by policies defending religious freedom.
Most fundamentally, these shallow, imprecise, and often inaccurate comments completely disregard the inherent value of religious liberty. But they also exemplify the political strategy of a progressive movement losing its bearings, sacrificing sanity in favor of stoking the fires of an ever-escalating culture war. Increasing numbers of thought leaders on the left put religious liberty in ominous scare quotes and redefine it as a buzzword for bigotry. They shouldn’t be shocked that scores of religious Americans are willing to hold their noses and overlook the serious flaws of the Trump administration for the sake of protecting their right to practice their faith without coercion.