It is not unusual for the Attorney General to speak at events and to various groups around the country. Not unusual at all. However, when the Attorney General speaks to a designated hate group that “specializes in supporting the recriminalization of homosexuality abroad, ending same-sex marriage, and generally making life as difficult as possible for LGBT communities in the U.S. and internationally” 1, then it is highly unusual. And when the event is closed to the press, no venue information is published, and the Department of Justice refuses to explain why Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions is speaking to this group, Alliance Defending Freedom, then there is a problem.
Alliance Defending Freedom is the very group defending the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, whereby a Colorado baker, citing religious objections to homosexuality, refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. Last month, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. Initially, the courts ruled against Masterpiece Cakeshop, and they have followed the ladder of appeals all the way to the highest court in the land.
Jeff Sessions, throughout his 20 years in Congress, has consistently voted against LGBT rights. In June 2006 he voted in support of a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. In December 2010 he voted against repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. In November 2013 he voted against taking up a bill providing workplace discrimination protections for LGBT people. And twice, in June 2000 and June 2002, he voted against expanding the definition of hate crimes to include attacks on people because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. In 2014, a year after the Supreme Court struck down part of the now-defunct Defense of Marriage Act, Sessions co-sponsored a bill that would allow the state definition of marriage to supersede the federal definition.
The Human Rights Campaign keeps an annual scorecard of how lawmakers fare on LGBTQ issues. Sessions’ score, year after year: zero. And now he is the head of the Department of Justice. And last night at 5:30 p.m., he spoke to Alliance Defending Freedom in a secretive, closed door meeting at the group’s Summit on Religious Liberty.
I am not alone in my concerns. The Democratic National Committee issued the following statement via email:
“You can judge a person by the company they keep and tonight – Attorney General Jeff Sessions is choosing to spend his time speaking in front of one of the country’s leading anti-LGBTQ hate groups. The Alliance Defending Freedom actively helped draft discriminatory legislation, worked to preserve laws criminalizing same-sex relations, and attacked the separation of church and state. ADF has been previously designated a hate group and Sessions’ appearance at this event, as the top law enforcement official in the country, brings in to question whether the attorney general intends to protect all Americans.”
Since being sworn in as Attorney General in February, Sessions has already taken an anti-LGBT stance when he, along with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, chose to rescind the Obama-era guidelines protecting the civil rights of transgender students, a move that was praised by Alliance Defending Freedom.
There is no information available regarding Sessions’ speech last night, so all any of us can do is speculate. If Sessions planned to speak on, say, the way the DOJ works, or constitutional law in general, then why the cloak of secrecy? Alliance for Freedom is typically quite outspoken and welcomes coverage of their events, so … why is this different? The lack of transparency, coupled with the purpose of Alliance and the documented bigotry of Sessions has thrown up red flags and set off alarm bells for me.
Sessions’ bigotry goes far back, as I have mentioned before, to the racist comments that denied him a federal judgeship during the Reagan era. How a man with so many prejudices became the highest ranking law enforcement officer in the nation is beyond comprehension, but in the current administration, perhaps not surprising. However, to carry his personal prejudices into the job he has been given is a slap in the face to the Constitution, it is a slap in the face to the department he oversees, and it is a slap in the face to every single U.S. citizen.
I fail to understand how Alliance Defending Freedom is defending freedom. This seems to me an oxymoron. If a baker bakes a cake for a gay couple, how does that take away the baker’s freedom? It does not. He is simply baking a cake. He may not agree with homosexuality, it may be against his religion, but the couple buying the cake are not hurting him in any way. He is just baking a cake, the thing that he has chosen to do with his life. If he refuses to bake a cake for a gay couple, or a black man, or a Muslim woman, then he, the baker, is a bigot, and there is no room in this nation, in this world, for bigotry, which is simply another word for unjustified hate.
Eventually I imagine we will find out more about Sessions’ speech last night, and I am willing to bet that most of us, those who value every human being, not just those who are white, straight, Christians, will not be pleased with what we learn. There was no reason for the lack of transparency here, as it is certainly not a matter of national security. One can only assume that Mr. Sessions intends to operate beneath a cloak of secrecy so that We The People, who pay his salary, cannot know what our own government is doing to us. It is true that you are judged by the company you keep, and Mr. Sessions has chosen some nasty company to keep.
1 Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)