A Listening Sessions on Faith

October 30, 2018 - Tuesday

A Listening Sessions on Faith

"In every generation, there's somebody who will hate," Audrey Glickman said outside of her Pittsburgh synagogue, now overflowing with flowers, candles, and 11 Star of David markers. "And you have to deal with it, and you have to move on." Moving on is never easy, not even now, in a year already marred by so many tragedies -- in high schools, newspaper offices, and university campuses. But Audrey is right. We have to deal with it -- and we have to deal with it as a country.

So much about Saturday's massacre is heartbreaking, but one of the most profoundly sad things about it is how unsurprising it is. And not just the violence -- but the growing disgust people have for one another. "We Jews teach our children that they're going to be hated," Audrey told a reporter. What an unbelievably depressing commentary on where we are as a culture.

Faith used to unite us. We may not have shared the same beliefs, but there was always a common understanding of what brought us here. Now, hundreds of years later, we're suffering from the same religious prejudice that drove the settlers here in the first place. Maybe, Attorney General Jeff Sessions pointed out at a gathering on Monday, that makes the conversation about religious liberty that much more important. "We are all still reeling," he said somberly, from the rampage in Pittsburgh. "This was not just an attack on the Jewish faith. It was attack on all people of faith. And it was an attack on America's values of protecting those of faith. It cannot -- it will not -- be tolerated."

Apart from Donald Trump, no one in the administration has been more committed to rolling back the climate of religious hostility than General Sessions. Of course, a lot of the credit for that mess belongs to the last administration, which spent Barack Obama's two terms cracking down on faith across American life. Sessions goes through the litany of attacks in his speech (there are plenty to choose from), and then insists that Obama's "solution" -- banishing religion from the public square – only made tensions worse.

Almost as soon as he took office, President Trump set to work undoing the damage done to our First Freedom. Within months, the DOJ barely resembled the Obama agency. Instead of punishing believers, the Justice Department started protecting them. "Shortly after he took office, the president directed me to issue legal guidance to ensure that all executive agencies would faithfully apply the federal laws that protect religious liberty," the attorney general explained. "Our team embraced that challenge."

Under Sessions's leadership, the agency released a special guidance ordering federal offices to respect religious liberty. It started going to court to defend people of faith, creating a fresh respect for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. "We are aggressively and appropriately enforcing our civil rights laws, our hate crimes laws, and laws protecting churches and faith groups," the attorney general explained.

Now, a few months after announcing a special Religious Liberty Task Force, the DOJ is taking another step. After the Supreme Court ruled that religious groups have to be eligible for the same state grants as everyone else, Sessions is ordering his new task force to "to examine... whether there are other instances in which this kind of discrimination is occurring at the federal level. If so," he vows, "it must -- and will -- stop."

"We are going to keep going to court," he promised. "We are going to keep winning. I say that because we are winning and because our superb legal team carefully reviews each case we take to ensure it is legally sound.
... But we also need a recovery of respect for one another... Not everything needs to be decided in court. We don't have to get offended over everything. Maybe what we need is not more litigation -- but more tolerance, or simple patience, for others."

The administration is doing its part to make sure that people of all faiths are treated fairly. The rest is up to us. The path to civility is right in front of us. Let's choose it.

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