UPDATE – 7/13/2017 @ 4:00 PM:
After coming under fire for refusing to release his remarks to ADF, Sessions appears to have released a transcript of his speech to the far-right publication The Federalist. In the version of the speech published at The Federalist, Sessions writes that his department will “never allow this secular government of ours to demand that sincere religious beliefs be abandoned” and touts his upcoming guidance on “how to apply federal religious liberty protections.” We will update as we find out more.
On Tuesday night, Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivered a speech to a “Summit on Religious Liberty” hosted by Alliance Defending Freedom, the behemoth Religious Right group that has led the fight to redefine religious liberty protections in an effort to make it easier to discriminate against LGBTQ people and others. Sessions’ speech was closed to the press and both the Justice Department and ADF are refusing to provide a transcript of his remarks to the public.
As Peter wrote on Tuesday: “The Alliance Defending Freedom is the largest of the Religious Right legal groups, engaging in culture war battles against LGBTQ equality and reproductive choice in the U.S. and increasingly around the globe. So why would the address of the attorney general to ADF, a group not normally shy about taking credit for its work, be closed to the media?”
In an attempt to answer that question, we’ve submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Justice Department seeking a transcript of Sessions’ speech and other information about his participation in the ADF event.
Here’s the relevant part of the FOIA request we submitted:
On July 11, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivered a speech to the “Summit on Religious Liberty” hosted by the Alliance Defending Freedom (“ADF”), an organization that frequently engages in litigation involving the United States government on issues including LGBTQ equality, abortion rights, and the separation of church and state. The speech was closed to the press and a transcript or recording of the speech has not yet been released to the public. It is important for the public to know promptly what the Attorney General said behind closed doors to the ADF and what assurances he made to the group about how he would enforce the law as attorney general, especially given that the Attorney General has been tasked with developing guidance on interpreting religious liberty protections in federal law. As a recent CNN story explained, there is already significant concern that the Attorney General’s remarks to the ADF “are being kept hidden from the public.”
Accordingly, we request that a copy of the following documents be provided:
- A full transcript of Attorney General Sessions’ July 11, 2017, speech to the Alliance Defending Freedom’s “Summit on Religious Liberty.”
- Any audio or video recordings of the speech, including of any answers to questions or discussion after the speech, and any notes by any DOJ employee mentioning the speech or any such answers or discussion.
- All correspondence, e-mails, notes or logs of telephone calls, or any other records reflecting communications in 2017 between Attorney General Sessions or his representatives at the Department of Justice and any representative of ADF regarding the Attorney General’s participation in the “Summit on Religious Liberty” and other ADF events.
What are Sessions and the ADF trying to hide? Hopefully this will help us find out.