Jeff Sessions, the Religious Liberty Task Force and double-speak
On Monday, July 30, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the formation of the Religious Liberty Task Force. As to his justification, let me just quote from his speech announcing the task force:
“A dangerous movement, undetected by many, is now challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom. There can be no doubt.
This is no little matter. It must be confronted and defeated.
“We have gotten to the point where courts have held that morality cannot be a basis for law; where ministers are fearful to affirm, as they understand it, holy writ from the pulpit; and where one group can actively target religious groups by labeling them a ‘hate group’ on the basis of their sincerely-held religious beliefs.
“But in recent years, the cultural climate in this country — and in the West more generally — has become less hospitable to people of faith.
Many Americans have felt that their freedom to practice their faith has been under attack.
“In addition to protecting the safety of people of faith, we [the Department of Justice] are also protecting them against unjust discrimination.
And, of course, we were proud to file a brief in support of Jack Phillips [the baker in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.]”
So, what is he actually saying. It’s simple. What it all boils down to is, “Our religious liberty is under attack as never before. Our right to believe what we want to believe is being seriously eroded. And unless the federal government intervenes, we may not be able to worship the way we have a right to.”
Sounds reasonable, right?
Reasonable — until you look at who makes up this task force. Just one example will do to make my point: Tony Perkins.
Who is he? Tony Perkins is the head of the Family Research Council.
What is that? Family Research Council is a socially conservative group that the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled an anti-gay hate group.
Family Research Council lobbies against equal rights for LGBT people, and they believe that “homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large, and can never be affirmed.”
They don’t care that their opinions are contrary to the findings of the mainstream medical community, which has found that homosexuality is a normal and healthy variation of human behavior.
And Tony Perkins — what does he espouse and what are his positions? Well for one, he was against the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, arguing that repeal would infringe on the religious liberty of chaplains and service members who hold negative religious views about gays.
He also championed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as only between a man and a woman, and he believes that civil unions and same-sex marriage “pose a serious threat to the health of our culture.”
Finally, he believes that natural disasters are divine punishments for tolerance of homosexuality.
Let’s be clear: The real purpose for forming this task force is to further the agenda of these ultraconservative religious zealots, and that translates into increased attacks on the LGBT community.
But you sure couldn’t tell that from the words spoken by the attorney general.
Jeff Sessions’ speech reminded me of George Orwell’s 1984 and what has turned out to be doublespeak.
Doublespeak is language that deliberately obscures, disguises, distorts or reverses the meaning of words. Doublespeak may take the form of euphemisms (e.g. saying “downsizing” instead “layoffs,” or “servicing the target” instead of “bombing”). Doublespeak in these cases it is primarily meant to make the truth sound more palatable.
It may also refer to intentional ambiguity in language or to actual inversions of meaning. In these cases, doublespeak disguises the actual nature of the truth.
Doublespeak is most closely associated with political language.
Here’s what Edward S. Herman, a political economist, said about doublespeak:
“What is really important in the world of doublespeak is the ability to lie, whether knowingly or unconsciously, and to get away with it; and the ability to use lies and choose and shape facts selectively, blocking out those that don’t fit an agenda or program.”
That’s exactly what Session’s speech and his justification for this nefarious “Task Force” is — doublespeak.
For example, he references a “dangerous movement.” Now, I’m fairly up on the news, but I haven’t heard of this movement. I have heard of people and groups holding bigots accountable for their prejudice, even when it emanated from “religious” organizations.
Sessions decries the fact that courts have held that morality cannot be a “basis for law.” Now, this guy is a lawyer — the U.S. attorney general for God’s sake — so he should know that the Supreme Court has, almost from its beginning, held that it cannot judge a particular person’s or group’s morality, but must uphold and interpret the law.
Finally, Sessions is aghast that “one group can actively target religious groups by labeling them a ‘hate group’ on the basis of their sincerely-held religious beliefs.” If their “sincerely-held religious beliefs” are that gays are subhuman and should be shot on sight, you bet I’ll call them a hate group.
This task force isn’t a shield to protect religious freedom; it’s just another sword they can use to attack us as LGBT people.
When Tony Perkins and others of his ilk try to impose legislation that treats us a second-class citizens to satisfy their particular religious beliefs, that’s not protecting religious liberty, that’s defiling it.
This isn’t the free exercise of religion; it’s the unwanted imposition of a distorted and dangerous religious belief system on others who don’t share these rotten and festering beliefs.
But listening to Session’s speech, one would get the opposite impression.
Here is the stark reality: This administration’s game plan is all about doublespeak, and, just like in Orwell’s book, people are lining up to listen and blindly follow.
This is, indeed, a dangerous time for freedom.