Where's the Shame in Protecting Religious Liberty?

February 3, 2021

Elections have real-life consequences. This is true for religious protections, which can vary greatly depending on the incumbent presidential administration. The Department of Justice (DOJ) was a fearless advocate for faith during the Trump administration. Now, only two weeks into the Biden administration, a prominent appointee to the DOJ is making it known that she considers standing up for faith "shameful."

The DOJ championed religious liberty over the past four years, first under the leadership of Jeff Sessions and then William Barr. When then-Attorney General Sessions announced the establishment of a Religious Liberty Task Force in July 2018, he said, "A dangerous movement, undetected by many, is now challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom. There can be no doubt. This is no little matter. It must be confronted and defeated." He was and still is correct. The task force set out to enforce civil rights laws and laws protecting churches and faith groups. They filed amicus briefs in religious liberty cases, standing up for churches impacted by overly restrictive, unconstitutional mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic. They also filed an amicus supporting Jack Phillips in the high-profile Masterpiece Cake Shop case. Indeed, the Trump administration's DOJ was fearless in its defense of religious liberty.

Regardless of what one thinks of President Trump himself, it must be acknowledged that he placed the right people in the right jobs at DOJ. Eric Dreiband, who served as the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division (CRD), protected free speech and religious exercise. Under the Place to Worship Initiative, the CRD significantly increased the number of lawsuits and investigations protecting the right of religious worship of many diverse religions. The CRD contributed to victories for religious liberty in the U.S. Supreme Court, including the rights of religious employers -- such as Catholic schools -- and the right to attend parochial schools free of religious discrimination in scholarship programs.

The Trump administration's excellent DOJ personnel choices led to unprecedented religious liberty protections. They fought for Christians to not be forced to provide cakes for gay weddings, and they fought to protect religious schools against government meddling in hiring and firing decisions. When the pandemic hit, and some state and local governments treated secular interests more favorably than houses of worship, Trump's DOJ fought to make sure religious adherents were not forgotten.

In contrast, President Biden has plans to roll back major protections for religious adherents, and he has made that clear with his appointment of Kristen Clarke as Eric Dreiband's replacement. When Sessions announced the Religious Liberty Task Force in 2018, Clarke took to Twitter to rail against the DOJ's decision to protect the First Freedom, saying, "DOJ should be working to fight discrimination and protect the rights of vulnerable communities. Instead, Jeff Sessions is launching a Religious Liberty Task Force to make it easier for people to use religion to mask their discriminatory goals. Shameful."

You read that right. Biden's nominee for an influential DOJ position charged with protecting civil rights thinks protecting the very first right in the Bill of Rights -- freedom of religion -- is shameful.

As former Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, a movement is eroding our religious liberty. From the Left's perspective, anyone who refuses to agree with their ideology regarding marriage, gender, or abortion must be silenced. If Kristen Clarke's appointment is any indication, Biden's leadership picks will continue this crusade to silence any dissenters, including conservative Christians. We will not be silenced and will continue to fight for our constitutionally protected religious freedom. Thankfully, we can take comfort that the good work of the previous administration's DOJ has helped secure court victories that will lead to further protections, despite the change in administration.