Confirmation: During His Hearing, Sessions Didn’t Allay Our Concerns

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions’ (R-Ala.) two-day confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee to be U.S. attorney general concluded today, but Sessions has already cemented our concerns about his lack of respect for religious freedom.

When asked about President-elect Donald J. Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, Sessions said he’s against a ban, despite previously defending it.

But, Sessions apparently still supports the U.S. government asking immigrants about their religious beliefs.  

At the hearing, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) asked Sessions why he voted against legislation that condemned the use of religion as a factor in denying entry to immigrants.

"Many people do have religious views that are inimical to the values of the United States," Sessions responded.

As the NAACP’s Cornell Brooks testified today, however, any religious litmus test to enter the country is un-American. The ACLU’s David Cole also condemned such a position, testifying that Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country is “blatantly unconstitutional.” Yet Sessions defended it.

Indeed, religious freedom guarantees that the government cannot favor one religion over another, but rather must remain neutral. Sessions paid lip service to the notion, but didn’t actually get it right. 

Sessions' responses during his confirmation hearing were problematic. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik.)  

Sessions further demonstrated his struggle to understand religious freedom protections during a series of questions from U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

Responding to Whitehouse’s question about whether secular attorneys have anything to fear under Sessions if he is confirmed, Sessions, very roundaboutly, said no. But then Whitehouse followed up, asking, “And a secular person has just as good a claim to understanding the truth as a person who is religious, correct?”

Sessions’ response was, “Well, I’m not sure.”

Yes, the man who may serve as attorney general is “not sure” whether a secular person can have the same understanding of truth—essentially the same moral center—as a religious person.

He’s said things like this before, but it’s even more troubling to hear him say it during his confirmation hearing. It’s an insult to millions of Americans who are secular and to the very principle of freedom of religion, which applies to religious and secular people alike. Our government cannot treat secular people differently than those who are religious.

Earlier in the hearing, Sessions insisted that he was a “great believer” in religious freedom. But how can someone who supports targeting immigrants based on their religion and thinks that secular people are not equal to religious people be a “great believer” in religious freedom? He has shown us that he is anything but that.

We know Sessions has said that church-state separation is “a recent thing that is unhistorical and unconstitutional,” and he has supported religion being used as an excuse to restrict the rights of women, the LGBTQ community and more. During his confirmation hearings, he’s, well, confirmed that he doesn’t respect religious freedom.

AU has already weighed in: we sent a letter opposing Sessions’ confirmation and joined letters with our allies raising concerns. You can help—urge your Senators to oppose Sessions too.