GOP candidate and former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, held a news conference in Woodlawn to say he had issued letters to Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin and the Birmingham Board of Education, urging them to reverse their actions ending relationships with the Church of the Highlands.
Sessions called both decisions “discriminatory.”
“It is never more important to defend free speech and the right to freely exercise one’s religion than when it is under attack,” Sessions said in a statement.
In his letter to Woodfin, Sessions wrote, “I urge you to consult counsel of your choice and reverse the unconstitutional discrimination meted out against the Church of the Highlands. I also urge you and all City officials to resist the temptation to silence, censor, and punish speech that you find objectionable, particularly when doing so comes at the expense of citizens who most need your assistance.”
The actions to terminate the relationships with the Church of the Highlands came after Pastor Chris Hodges liked comments by conservative commentator Charlie Kirk on social media.
In his letter to the members of the Birmingham Board of Education, Sessions wrote, “Your actions demonstrate hostility toward First Amendment freedoms of speech and religion and are an unconstitutional retaliation and abuse of governmental authority.”
“Although the leases earned Birmingham City Schools $288,000 each year, on June 9, you terminated them based on your objection to the views that the Church’s Pastor ‘liked’ on social media,” Sessions said. “You have not only discriminated against constitutionally protected speech, but you have cut off a valuable source of funding for Birmingham’s students and teachers, and plainly violated the Church’s contract without cause.”
“This is a very important matter,” Sessions wrote to Woodfin urging him to reverse his decision ending the relationship between the Church of the Highlands and the Birmingham Public Housing Authority. “It requires your immediate and personal attention. It is never more important to defend free speech and the right to freely exercise one’s religion than when it is under attack. Please take action now to correct this wrong.”
The Sessions news conference was originally to have taken place in front of Woodlawn High School, but a staff member for the Birmingham City Schools directed reporters and the Sessions team to move off of school grounds. When the Sessions campaign staff set up Sessions’ podium on the sidewalk on the city street, the same staff member directed that the news conference be relocated across the street, citing his orders from Birmingham schools administrators.
Sessions is running in the July 14 Republican primary against former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville. The eventual Republican nominee will face incumbent U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, in the Nov. 3 general election.
Sessions served in the Senate from 1997 to 2017 before vacating the seat after he was confirmed as U.S. attorney general. Former U.S. Attorney Jones then defeated Republican nominee former Chief Justice Roy Moore in the December 2017 special election for the vacant Senate seat.