Union Theological Seminary President Responds to Justice Department Memo on Religious Liberty

Categories: Press Releases

October 9, 2017
Attorney General Jeff Session’s recent memorandum lays the groundwork for outright discrimination against a specific group of people, and disturbingly, he uses the cover of religious liberty to justify it. There are many troubling aspects to his position, but as a Christian, I am specifically disturbed by the “religious” views he uses to buttress his position.  As a Christian minister and a life-long church-goer, I absolutely disagree with his construal.  According to the tenets of Christianity, we are called to be exemplary in our love not exempted from loving certain groups.

Oddly, Sessions is himself doing the very thing he intends to prevent. He is giving special rights to Christians who are anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice, while at the same time, denying the religious freedoms of Christians and people of other faiths who are neither.  This de-facto government endorsement of one particular slice of Christianity is a clear violation of the Constitution’s establishment clause. Our founders were careful to protect individual rights to worship without creating an official state religion. This Justice memo not only jeopardizes that tenuous balance, it threatens the lives of countless Americans.

No LGBTQ person should be denied a job because of an employer’s bigotry, nor should they lose their housing because a landlord feels it sinful to rent to them. No person should lose access to birth control because of their boss’ religious objection. The life and freedom of millions cannot be made subservient to one group of Christians who have a particular  interpretation of doctrine.  Moreover, the idea that these Christians need religious protections is odd. As the majority religious group, Christians in the United States enjoy immense religious privilege. (That we are even debating enshrining their beliefs into law is a testament to this.)

Religious freedom and civil rights are complementary values and legal principles necessary to sustain and advance equality for all. This Justice memo is merely a license to discriminate. To justify this hatred in the name of religion makes a mockery of the Christianity I confess, which has at the center of it a gracious God who calls upon us to love our neighbors and treat all people with respect. It is not faithful to God, it’s not constitutional, and it certainly isn’t justice.

Rev. Dr. Serene Jones
President, Union  Theological Seminary in the City of New York