Connect with us

In Case You Missed It

Sessions moves to protect religious liberties

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Friday, the Trump administration reversed Obama-era policies with new legal guidance issued to the Department of Justice by Attorney General Jeff Sessions regarding religious liberty.

Sessions issued guidance to all administrative agencies and executive departments regarding religious liberty protections in federal law.

“Our freedom as citizens has always been inextricably linked with our religious freedom as a people,” Sessions said. “It has protected both the freedom to worship and the freedom not to believe. Every American has a right to believe, worship, and exercise their faith. The protections for this right, enshrined in our Constitution and laws, serve to declare and protect this important part of our heritage.”

“As President Trump said, ‘Faith is deeply embedded into the history of our country, the spirit of our founding and the soul of our nation . . . [this administration] will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore,’” Sessions continued.

Advertisement

“The constitutional protection of religious beliefs and the right to exercise those beliefs have served this country well, have made us one of the most tolerant countries in the world, and have also helped make us the freeist and most generous,” Sessions said. “President Trump promised that this administration would ‘lead by example on religious liberty,’ and he is delivering on that promise.”

The Attorney General’s office wrote that the memorandum was issued pursuant to President Trump’s Executive Order No. 13798 (May 4, 2017), which directed the attorney general to “issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in Federal law” in order “to guide all agencies in complying with relevant Federal law.”

The guidance interprets existing protections for religious liberty in federal law, identifying 20 high-level principles that administrative agencies and executive departments can put to practical use to ensure the religious freedoms of Americans are lawfully protected. Sessions also issued a second memorandum to the Department of Justice, directing implementation of the religious liberty guidance within the department.

The attorney general issued two memoranda. The first, addressed to all administrative agencies and executive departments, identifies 20 key principles of religious liberty. The guidance reminds agencies of their obligations under federal law to protect religious liberty and summarizes 20 key principles of religious-liberty protections that agencies can use in that effort. It explains that agencies should use these principles to protect religious liberty in all aspects of their work, including as employers, rule-makers, adjudicators, contract-and grant-makers and program administrators.

On specific policies, the guidance states that government may not exclude religious organizations from secular aid programs, and the IRS may not enforce the Johnson Amendment, which restricts tax-exempt organizations, including churches and religious organizations, from endorsing or opposing candidates for elected office.

Sessions’ second memorandum, addressed to DOJ components and United States Attorney’s offices, directs the implementation of that guidance within the department.

The 20 key principles are:

  1. The freedom of religion is a fundamental right of paramount importance, expressly protected by federal law.
  2. The free exercise of religion includes the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one’s religious beliefs.
  3. The freedom of religion extends to persons and organizations.
  4. Americans do not give up their freedom of religion by participating in the marketplace, partaking of the public square, or interacting with government.
  5. Government may not restrict acts or abstentions because of the beliefs they display.
  6. Government may not target religious individuals or entities for special disabilities based on their religion.
  7. Government may not target religious individuals or entities through discriminatory enforcement of neutral, generally applicable laws.
  8. Government may not officially favor or disfavor particular religious groups.
  9. Government may not interfere with the autonomy of a religious organization.
  10. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 prohibits the federal government from substantially burdening any aspect of religious observance or practice, unless imposition of that burden on a particular religious adherent satisfies strict scrutiny.
  11. RFRA’s protection extends not just to individuals, but also to organizations, associations, and at least some for-profit corporations.
  12. RFRA does not permit the federal government to second-guess the reasonableness of a religious belief.
  13. A governmental action substantially burdens an exercise of religion under RFRA if it bans an aspect of an adherent’s religious observance or practice, compels an act inconsistent with that observance or practice, or substantially pressures the adherent to modify such observance or practice.
  14. The strict scrutiny standard applicable to RFRA is exceptionally demanding.
  15. RFRA applies even where a religious adherent seeks an exemption from a legal obligation requiring the adherent to confer benefits on third parties.
  16. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, prohibits covered employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of their religion.
  17. Title VIl’s protection extends to discrimination on the basis of religious observance or practice as well as belief, unless the employer cannot reasonably accommodate such observance or practice without undue hardship on the business.
  18. The Clinton Guidelines on Religious Exercise and Religious Expression in the Federal Workplace provide useful examples for private employers of reasonable accommodations for religious observance and practice in the workplace.
  19. Religious employers are entitled to employ only persons whose beliefs and conduct are consistent with the employers’ religious precepts.
  20. As a general matter, the federal government may not condition receipt of a federal grant or contract on the effective relinquishment of a religious organization’s exemptions or attributes of its religious character.

The DOJ, earlier this year, demonstrated a shift in policy from the Obama administration as it commented on Zarda v. Altitude Express at the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals, which contends that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bans gender discrimination, but does not include sexual orientation or gender identity, in the workplace.

The guidance, today, demonstrates further that the DOJ recognizes that religious liberty principles are in fact stalwart, even when challenged by special interest groups.

“We commend President Trump for instructing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to send a strong message to the rest of America that religious freedom must be protected,” Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said in a statement. “The President has reversed the Obama-era policies and committed to protecting and promoting the religious freedom upon which this nation was founded. The Department of Justice must now vigorously enforce all Americans’ civil right of free exercise of religious liberty. This is an extremely positive step in the right direction.”

This is being interpreted as meaning that Alabama-based EWTN and the Little Sisters of the Poor, who objected to having to provide access to abortifacients, sterilization and other procedures that they have a deep moral and ethical objection so their employees will not have to. The Little Sisters of the Poor, the Archdiocese of Washington, Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh and other Christian colleges and universities filed lawsuits over the mandate, and a bundle of cases made its way to the Supreme Court under Zubik v. Burwell, argued before the Supreme Court in 2016.

In response to the announcement on the revised rules, EWTN CEO Michael Warsaw said, “For more than five years, the HHS contraception mandate has forced Americans to violate their deeply held moral and ethical principles, without regard for the Constitution’s guarantee of religious liberty. EWTN filed a lawsuit against the government in February 2012, just days after the mandate rules were first published, and we have continued to fight for justice alongside many courageous believers. We are encouraged by today’s announcement.”

“Together with our legal team, we are carefully considering the exemptions announced today and the impact this may have on our legal challenge to the mandate, but we are optimistic that this news will prove to be a step toward victory for the fundamental freedoms of many Americans,” Warsaw said. “I invite Catholics, and all people of faith, to join me in continued prayer for our nation, for its leaders, and for the protection of liberty in the United States and around the world.”

It is also our present understanding that a pastor or church council could – under these rules – make political statement, and possibly even endorsements, without fear of losing their tax exempt status, according to these rules.  The Alabama Political Reporter does not give legal advice, thus any interpretation about how this effects you, your church, your company, your insurance, tax exempt status, etc. should be made only after consulting with your legal and/or tax advice.

(Original reporting by Fox News, NBC news, the National Catholic Register, the Catholic News Service, and Catholics for America contributed to this report.)

 

Continue Reading

In Case You Missed It

House passes General Fund Budget

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

The Alabama House of Representatives passed the state General Fund Budget on Tuesday.

The General Fund Budget for the 2019 fiscal year is Senate Bill 178. It is sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose. State Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, carried the budget on the House floor. Clouse chairs the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee.

Clouse said, “Last year we monetized the BP settlement money and held over $97 million to this year.”

Clouse said that the state is still trying to come up with a solution to the federal lawsuit over the state prisons. The Governor’s Office has made some progress after she took over from Gov. Robert Bentley. The supplemental we just passed added $30 million to prisons.

Advertisement

The budget adds $50 million to the Department of Corrections.

Clouse said that the budget increased the money for prisons by $55,680,000 and includes $4.8 million to buy the privately-owned prison facility in Perry County.

Clouse said that the budget raises funding for the judicial system and raises the appropriation for the Forensic Sciences to $11.7 million.

The House passed a committee substitute so the Senate is either going to have to concur with the changes made by the House or a conference committee will have to be appointed. Clouse told reporters that he hoped that it did not have to go to conference.

Clouse said that the budget had added $860,000 to hire more Juvenile Probation Officers. After talking to officials with the court system that was cut in half in the amendment. The amendment also includes some wording the arbiters in the court lawsuit think we need.

The state General Fund Budget, SB178, passed 98-1.

Both budgets have now passed the Alabama House of Representatives.

The 2019 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, 2018.

In addition to the SGF, the House also passed a supplemental appropriation for the current 2018 budget year. SB175 is also sponsored by Pittman and was carried by Clouse on the floor of the House.

SB175 includes $30 million in additional 2018 money for the Department of Corrections. The Departmental Emergency Fund, the Examiners of Public Accounts, the Insurance Department and Forensic Sciences received additional money.

Clouse said, “We knew dealing with the federal lawsuit was going to be expensive. We are adding $80 million to the Department of Corrections.”

State Representative Johnny Mack Morrow, R-Red Bay, said that state Department of Forensics was cut from $14 million to $9 million. “Why are we adding money for DA and courts if we don’t have money for forensics to provide evidence? if there is any agency in law enforcement or the court system that should be funded it is Forensics.”

The supplemental 2018 appropriation passed 80 to 1.

The House also passed SB203. It was sponsored by Pittman and was carried in the House by State Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton. It raises securities and registration fees for agents and investment advisors. It increases the filing fees for certain management investment companies. Johnson said that those fees had not been adjusted since 2009.

The House also passed SB176, which is an annual appropriation for the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The bill requires that the agency have an operations plan, audited financial statement, and quarterly and end of year reports. SB176 is sponsored by Pittman and was carried on the House floor by State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chatham.

The House passed Senate Bill 185 which gives state employees a cost of living increase in the 2019 budget beginning on October 1. It was sponsored by Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville and was being carried on the House floor by state Rep. Dimitri Polizos, R-Montgomery.

Polizos said that this was the first raise for non-education state employees in nine years. It is a 3 percent raise.

SB185 passed 101-0.

Senate Bill 215 gives retired state employees a one time bonus check. SB215 is sponsored by Senator Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Guntersville.

Rich said that retired employees will get a bonus $1  for every month that they worked for the state. For employees who retired with 25 years of service that will be a $300 one time bonus. A 20-year retiree would get $240 and a 35-year employee would get $420.

SB215 passed the House 87-0.

The House passed Senate Bill 231, which is the appropriation bill increase amount to the Emergency Forest Fire and Insect and Disease Fund. SB231 is sponsored by Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette.

State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chathom, said, “Thank you for bringing this bill my district is full of trees and you never know when a forest fire will hit.

SB231 passed 87-2.

The state of Alabama is unique among the states in that most of the money is earmarked for specific purposes allowing the Legislature little year-to-year flexibility in moving funds around.

The SGF includes appropriations for the Alabama Medicaid Agency, the courts, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Alabama Department of Corrections, mental health, and most state agencies that are no education related. The Alabama Department of Transportation gets their funding mostly from state fuel taxes.

The Legislature also gives ALEA a portion of the gas taxes. K-12 education, the two year college system, and all the universities get their state support from the education trust fund (ETF) budget. There are also billions of dollars in revenue that are earmarked for a variety of purposes that does not show up in the SGF or ETF budgets.

Examples of that include the Public Service Commission, which collects utility taxes from the industries that it regulates. The PSC is supported entirely by its own revenue streams and contributes $13 million to the SGF. The Secretary of State’s Office is entirely funded by its corporate filing and other fees and gets no SGF appropriation.

Clouse warned reporters that part of the reason this budget had so much money was due to the BP oil spill settlement that provided money for the 2018 budget and $97 million for the 2019 budget. Clouse said they elected to make a $13 million repayment to the Alabama Trust fund that was not due until 2020 but that is all that was held over for 2020.

Clouse predicted that the Legislature will have to make some hard decisions about revenue in next year’s session.

 

Continue Reading

In Case You Missed It

Day Care bill delayed for second time on Senate floor, may be back Thursday

Sam Mattison

Published

on

By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

The day care bill, which would license certain day care centers in Alabama, was once again delayed on the state Senate floor after one lawmaker requested more information.

Its brief appearance Tuesday ended with state Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, saying a compromise had not yet been worked out with the bill’s detractors.

Alabama’s Senate has been hesitant to act on the legislation because of complaints of state Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, who has been an opponent of the bill since its introduction last year. The bill’s delay on Tuesday marks the second time its been taken off the Senate’s agenda.

The bill has had a rocky time in this year’s session, but the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said she is still confident about its passage out of the Legislature.

Advertisement

Warren, D-Tuskegee, filed the bill this session with the support of influential lawmakers including Gov. Kay Ivey, who told reporters last year that she though all day cares should be licensed.

Mainly sparked by the death of 5-year-old boy in the care of a unlicensed day care worker, the bill had great momentum coming into this year’ session.

Despite the growing support from lawmakers, Religious groups had concerns that the bill would increase state-sponsored reach into religious day cares in churches and non-profit groups.

Spearheading the dissenters was Alabama Citizens Action Program, a conservative religious-based PAC.

Warren, proponents, and ALCAP announced a compromise to the bill while it was still in the Alabama House.

Announced by ALCAP originally, the new bill was a weaker version in that it did not require that all day cares in the state be regulated. Instead, religious-based day cares would only need to be registered if they received federal funds. At a Senate committee meeting in February, Warren said a similar requirement was about to come from federal law in Congress.

The bill moved through the House in a overwhelming vote in favor of the proposal and passed unanimously out of a Senate committee a few weeks ago.

Warren, speaking to reporters after its passage from the House, said she was unsure if the bill would encounter resistance in the upper chamber.

It was the Senate that killed the daycare bill last year amid a cramped last day where senators took the bill off the floor. The bill may face similar complications this year, as lawmakers seem to be preparing to adjourn within a few weeks.

Continue Reading

In Case You Missed It

Fantasy sports bill fails on Senate floor

Sam Mattison

Published

on

By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

Would-be Fantasy Sports players in Alabama will have to wait to legally play in the state following a Senate vote on Tuesday.

The Alabama Senate decisively killed a bill to exempt fantasy sports from the state’s prohibition on gambling.

Not even entertaining a debate on the Senate floor, the proposal was killed during a vote for the Budget Isolation Resolution, which is usually a formality vote preluding a debate.

Fantasy sports are contests where participants select players from real teams to compete on fantasy teams using the real-world players’ stats.

Advertisement

Since 2016, the practice has been illegal in Alabama following a legal decision by the Attorney General’s Office that categorized it as gambling.

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, predicted the bill’s failure during a committee meeting two weeks ago, where the bill passed unanimously.

Sen. Paul Sanford speaks to reporters after a Senate Committee meeting on Feb. 28, 2018. (Samuel Mattison/APR)

Speaking to reporter’s after the committee meeting, Sanford said the decision to file the bill was mainly a philosophical belief that the practice shouldn’t be illegal.

Sanford, a fantasy sports player before its ban, said that fantasy sports are a way to bring people closer together and not a means to win money. The Huntsville senator is not seeking re-election.

The bill’s failure in the Senate follows its trajectory last year too. A similar version of the bill, also sponsored by Sanford, failed in the Senate during the final days of the 2017 Legislative Session.

Since Sanford is retiring, it is unclear if the bill will even come back next session, or if it will even have a Senate sponsor.

Continue Reading

Authors

Advertisement

Facebook

Advertisement

Trending

Sessions moves to protect religious liberties

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 7 min
0