One Iowa Condemns Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Religious Exemption Guidance

On Friday, October 6, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued guidance to define how administrative agencies and executive departments should interpret religious exemption claims under federal law. President Trump announced plans for this guidance last May.

The guidance recommends broad religious exemptions for federal agency staff, government contractors, and grantees, effectively authorizing taxpayer funded discrimination. The memo itself is vague and therefore ripe for abuse, seeming to allow a number of disturbing possibilities. These possibilities include federally-funded hospitals denying medical care to LGBTQ people and taxpayer-subsidized homeless shelters denying services to LGBTQ youth. This license-to-discriminate guidance is part of a larger pattern of weakening protections for the LGBTQ community and comes only a day after the Department of Justice announced that it would no longer protect transgender Americans from workplace discrimination on the basis of their gender identity.

One Iowa Executive Director Daniel Hoffman-Zinnel issued a statement condemning the memo.

“Religious freedom is a fundamental American value protected by our constitution, but discrimination is not. This memo claims to uphold the former while actually giving broad clearance for the latter. It grants terrifyingly broad license for federally-sanctioned discrimination against the LGBTQ community, women, people of color, religious minorities and many others.

“We are fortunate enough in Iowa to have legal protections for LGBTQ Iowans on the books, which should mitigate much of this guidance’s impact in our state. However, this order throws us into murky territory given the discrepancies between state and federal policy. It also sends a clear message to all LGBTQ Americans, including LGBTQ Iowans, that this administration does not care about their rights and sees them as a hindrance to their political goals rather than as human beings.

“By issuing this guidance, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is directly opposing our core American values of fairness, equality, and the dignity of all persons. At One Iowa, we will continue to fight for LGBTQ Iowans against the shameful discrimination this memo enshrines as federal policy.”