Washington, DC — Yesterday, nineteen national organizations representing atheists, agnostics, humanists, and nontheistic Americans sent a letter to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees regarding the “Memorandum on Religious Liberty” issued by the Department of Justice on October 6, 2017. Signatories to the letter include the Secular Coalition for America along with all 18 of the coalition’s member organizations.
“In the face of such an unprecedented attack on the secular foundation of our government, the signatories of this letter felt it was important to stand together and send a clear, unified message on behalf of nontheistic Americans,” said Larry T. Decker, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America. “The nontheistic community has always been — and will always be — on the frontlines of the fight for true religious freedom. This letter highlights our major concerns about the actions of the Attorney General and urges Members of Congress to join us in defending the First Amendment at this critical moment.”
The letter outlines how the Attorney General’s Memorandum threatens the separation of church and state, as well as the civil rights of already vulnerable minority groups. The letter reads, “If fully implemented, the Memorandum will result in the creation of a religiously-based license to discriminate. Under its terms, religious individuals, organizations, and even for-profit corporations where the owners or management claim a religious affiliation, will be permitted to claim exemptions from a whole swath of federal, state, and local regulations and laws …[T]his Memorandum is tantamount to a declaration of war on the LGBTQ community, women, nontheists, and religious minorities.”
In addition to explaining the impact of the Memorandum, the letter highlights recent remarks, or lack thereof, made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions during a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing held on October 18, 2017. “When asked if the guidelines would grant religious exemptions from the Affordable Care Act to employers who practiced faith healing or held religious objections to vaccination, the Attorney General failed to answer the question. When asked if a federal employee could refuse to provide social security survivor benefits to a same-sex spouse, or if a federal contractor could refuse services to LGBTQ people in an emergency, Mr. Sessions claimed that he could not provide a verbal answer and admitted that he had not considered that possibility … [I]t is deeply disturbing that the Attorney General is unaware of, or refuses to acknowledge, that this Memorandum will open the door to as many forms of discrimination as there are religious beliefs.”
“We are grateful to Senators Hirono, Durbin, and Franken, who demonstrated through their questions during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that they understand the magnitude threat posed by the Memorandum,” said Decker. “Their questions exposed how little thought Attorney General Sessions had given to how these ‘religious liberty’ guidelines would open the door for discrimination. His silence spoke volumes.”
The letter concludes by urging Members of Congress to stand alongside the secular community to defend true religious freedom and the civil rights of all Americans. “The secular community will stand opposed to this Administration’s continued attempt to pervert the words ‘religious liberty’ in an effort to circumvent the United States Constitution and promote the religious interests of a select few. We hope that you will join us in these efforts to protect the Constitution, the separation of powers, and the rights of all Americans. We encourage you to question the Department of Justice, specifically the Attorney General of the United States, as well as this Administration, on the harms that will arise if this Memorandum is implemented, and ask that you pay close attention to these continued efforts to thwart the freedoms afforded to all Americans by elevating sectarian beliefs above the law.”
The full letter and its list of signatories can be found here.
CONTACT: Casey Brescia
Communications Associate and Spokesman
The Secular Coalition for America is the nation’s premier advocacy organization representing atheists, humanists, agnostics, and other nontheists. Its mission is to increase the visibility of and respect for nontheistic viewpoints in the United States, and to protect and strengthen the secular character of our government as the best guarantee of freedom for all. The Secular Coalition represents 18 voting member organizations.