US Attorney General directs Justice Dept to monitor states for religious freedom violations
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April 28, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – U.S. Attorney General William Barr issued a memorandum Monday directing the Department of Justice to be on the lookout for state and local actions that violate the rights of the American people under the guise of COVID-19 emergency measures and to intervene if necessary.
Barr’s April 27 memo directs Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Eric Dreiband and U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Matthew Schneider to “oversee and coordinate our efforts to monitor state and local policies and, if necessary, take action to correct them,” a step necessitated by the rise of “ policies that would be unthinkable in regular times” across the country.
“Even in times of emergency, when reasonable and temporary restrictions are placed on rights, the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers,” Barr wrote. “The legal restrictions on state and local authority are not limited to discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers. For example, the Constitution also forbids, in certain circumstances, discrimination against disfavored speech and undue interference with the national economy.”
“If a state or local ordinance crosses the line from an appropriate exercise of authority to stop the spread of COVID-19 into an overbearing infringement of constitutional and statutory protections, the Department of Justice may have an obligation to address that overreach in federal court,” Barr warned.
President Donald Trump backed his attorney general during a White House briefing Monday, the Daily Signal reported. “Frankly, the attorney general doesn’t want to have rights taken away,” he said. “There are some people not allowed to open up a store. They are going to lose their livelihood. By the way, that causes death also.”
COVID-19 lockdown orders across the country have forced the suspension of many public gatherings and activities across the country for fear of spreading the virus. Many such actions have been controversial, from ticketing pro-lifers for standing outside abortion centers (even while maintaining recommended “social distance” from one another) to prohibiting even drive-in church services.
The attorney general’s latest memoranda follows a series of actions and statements on the subject, including filing a formal Statement of Interest affirming Mississippi Christians’ right to hold drive-in church services and comments to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt warning governors that the Justice Department may step in to prevent them from infringing on Americans’ “fundamental rights.”