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U.S. Justice Dept targets discrimination against houses of worship

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department mentioned on Wednesday it was planning to ramp up efforts to deliver extra civil rights lawsuits against municipalities that attempt to discriminate against houses of worship.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions discusses a brand new Justice Department initiative on non secular liberty throughout an occasion on the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center’s Annual Leadership Mission to DC in Washington, U.S., June 13, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

The new initiative, outlined by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, marks the most recent motion within the Trump administration’s efforts to prioritize defending non secular freedoms.

It was introduced at the side of a brand new case filed against Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, over allegations it illegally denied zoning approval to an Orthodox Jewish congregation looking for to construct a synagogue.

“In recent years, the cultural climate has become less hospitable to people of faith and to religious belief. Many Americans have felt that their freedom to practice their faith has been under attack,” Sessions mentioned, talking earlier than the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center’s annual assembly in Washington, D.C.

“This feeling is understandable. Religious Americans have heard themselves called deplorables. They’ve heard themselves called bitter clingers.”

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions discusses a brand new Justice Department initiative on non secular liberty throughout an occasion on the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center’s Annual Leadership Mission to DC in Washington, U.S., June 13, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

Sessions has come underneath scrutiny by civil rights teams who say his give attention to non secular liberty might give people and personal companies leeway to discriminate against different teams, akin to homosexual, lesbian and transgender individuals.

The Justice Department underneath Sessions has taken a number of actions to champion the trigger, together with backing anti-abortion facilities in a case over a California legislation requiring notices be offered on the place ladies can obtain state-funded abortions.

Last fall, Sessions issued interpretive authorized steerage to all U.S. authorities places of work declaring that the “free exercise of religion includes the right to act or abstain from action.”

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions discusses a brand new Justice Department initiative on non secular liberty throughout an occasion on the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center’s Annual Leadership Mission to DC in Washington, U.S., June 13, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

The memo was used because the authorized foundation for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to attempt to block necessities underneath the Obamacare legislation for employers to cowl ladies’s contraception.

The new “Place to Worship Initiative” goals to assist the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division deliver extra instances against cities and others who use zoning legal guidelines to dam church buildings, mosques or synagogues from constructing, renting or increasing houses of worship.

“Too often, religious schools and their students face discrimination,” Sessions mentioned. “Some local officials even try to keep them out of their backyard by abusing zoning laws.”

Sessions mentioned the brand new non secular liberty initiative on the Washington places of work of the legislation agency Jones Day. Lawyers on the agency symbolize President Donald Trump’s marketing campaign and are at the moment defending it against a lawsuit filed by the Democratic celebration over allegations it colluded with Russia to meddle within the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Many Jones Day alumni now work for Sessions and have performed key roles in reversing Obama-era authorized positions on civil rights. They embrace the division’s present performing head of the Civil Rights Division, John Gore, and performing head of the Civil Division Chad Readler.

According to Sessions, the Justice Department has settled 24 civil instances with 90 plaintiffs over what he referred to as “the previous administration’s wrong application of the contraception mandate to objecting religious employers.”

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Tom Brown

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