Sessions’ Views on Religious Freedom Are Alarming, Says Americans United

Watchdog Group Says Senate Should Have Rejected Attorney General Nominee

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has expressed alarm over the Senate’s confirmation of U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) as U.S. attorney general, asserting that Sessions doesn’t respect basic constitutional principles that guarantee equality and justice, including guarantees of religious freedom.

“Separation of church and state is the basis for religious freedom in America,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Sessions has made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t support that principle. That fact alone makes him unsuited for the country’s top legal job.”

Lynn noted that Sessions has called separation of church and state an “extra-constitutional doctrine” and “a recent thing that is unhistorical and unconstitutional.” Sessions has supported prayers at public schools and prayers by a judge in a courtroom, as well the government display of the Christian cross and the Ten Commandments, all of which violate church-state protections in the Constitution.

Lynn said Sessions’ demonstrated bias against Muslims and support for anti-Muslim groups is troubling. Sessions has made it clear that he believes the government should prefer some religions over others and that Muslims can be singled out for disparate treatment and aversion. Compounding these concerns, reports indicate that he was an architect of President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban executive order, which violates constitutional protections for religious freedom.

Lynn further explained that Sessions’ statements indicate that Sessions thinks belief in God is a prerequisite to understanding the truth, telling the truth and making legal judgments. 

Sessions criticized then-nominee for the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, who is Catholic, suggesting that because he believed she is not religious, she could not see objective truth. He said, “If you … don’t believe in a higher being, maybe you don’t believe there is any truth.” He also rebuked then-Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) because he swore in witnesses without requiring them to say “So help me, God.” Sessions remarked, “Ninety-five percent of the people believe in God.  An invocation of His name, in conjunction with the seriousness of telling the truth, has an importance beyond mere legal requirement.”

In fact, Sessions reasserted this troubling view at his confirmation hearing. When asked if “a secular person has just as good a claim to understanding the truth as a person who is religious,” Sessions’ unfortunate reply was, “Well, I’m not sure.” 

Lynn also remarked on Sessions’ efforts to sanction discrimination against LGBTQ people in the name of religion. He co-sponsored bills that would allow federal employees to refuse to serve all citizens equally and federally funded social service providers to discriminate, under the guise of religious freedom. AU believes religious freedom means we can believe or not as we see fit, but it doesn't allow anyone to ignore laws that protect others or to take away the rights of others. 

Added Lynn, “It’s obvious that Sessions is not up to the task of equally representing all Americans, religious and non-religious. The Senate should not have entrusted him with this important job.”

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.