LGBTQ activists were wondering if Attorney General Jeff Sessions had changed his less-than-supportive stance on protecting the LGBTQ community when he vowed to investigate hate crimes targeting transgender women. Then, on Tuesday, Sessions spoke favorably to one of the most powerful anti-LGBTQ organizations in the country.
Sessions gave a closed-door speech to the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian anti-LGBTQ legal organization currently supporting a Supreme Court case that could decide if American businesses can discriminate against LGBTQ Americans. Though the Department of Justice refused to release a transcript of the speech, conservative publication the Federalist published Sessions’ talk in full, revealing he had glowing words for the organization, calling its anti-LGBTQ legal advocacy “important work.”
In fact, Sessions went so far as to compare the organization’s measures to Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights activism.
“And of course it was faith that inspired Martin Luther King Jr. to march and strive to make this country stronger yet,” Sessions told the organization. “His was a religious movement. The faith that truth would overcome. He said that we ‘must not seek to solve the problem’ of segregation merely for political reasons, but ‘in the final analysis, we must get rid of segregation because it is sinful.’
“So our freedom as citizens has always been inextricably linked with our religious freedom as a people.”
Sessions also portrayed religious Americans as oppressed, suggesting that the Constitution should be based on the right to discriminate via religious freedom. That’s an uncomfortable claim for many in the LGBTQ community who fear the Department of Justice may veer toward an anti-LGBTQ, religious-freedom bias in the years ahead.
“We will not require American citizens to give intellectual assent to doctrines that are contrary to their religious beliefs. And they must be allowed to exercise those beliefs as the First Amendment guarantees,” Sessions said. “We will defend freedom of conscience resolutely. That is inalienable. That is our heritage.”
Since his appointment as attorney general, Sessions has been one of Trump’s most highly criticized cabinet members. He has previously vowed to lower funding for sanctuary cities and has repeatedly made false claims about drugs, saying heroin is only slightly more dangerous than weed. He has also testified about his involvement in the Trump-Russia election investigation.