Justice Department Announces Religious Liberty Update and Directs Designation of "Defenders"
FROM THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT:
The Department of Justice today announced the update of the United States Attorneys' Manual (USAM) with a new section titled, "Associate Attorney General's Approval and Notice Requirements for Issues Implicating Religious Liberty."
On Oct. 6, 2017, the Attorney General issued a Memorandum for All Executive Departments and Agencies entitled Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty. The memo directed components and United States Attorney's Offices to use the guidance in litigation, advice to the Executive Branch, operations, grants, and all other aspects of the Department's work.
In order to ensure compliance with the Attorney General's memo, the USAM will be updated with language that directs relevant Department of Justice components to:
- Immediately inform the Office of the Associate Attorney General upon receiving service of a suit filed against the United States raising any significant question concerning religious liberty;
- Coordinate decisions about merits arguments and significant litigation strategy questions in religious liberty cases with the Office of the Associate Attorney General; and
- Obtain the approval of the Office of the Associate Attorney General with respect to any affirmative civil suit that impinges on rights under the Free Exercise Clause, Establishment Clause, or Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The updated USAM will also instruct relevant Justice Department components to consult the 20 religious liberty principles laid out in the Attorney General's October 6 memo when considering whether the notice or approval requirements are initiated.
In order to fully effectuate the approval and notice requirements in the updated USAM, the Department will instruct all U.S. Attorneys to designate a point of contact to lead these efforts for their office.
"Religious liberty is an inalienable right protected by the Constitution, and defending it is one of the most important things we do at the Department of Justice," said Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand.
At President Trump's direction, Attorney General Sessions issued a robust and clear guidance document in October that clearly explains how the federal government is to apply the religious liberty protections currently on the books. The requirement that each of the U.S. Attorney offices designate a religious liberty point of contact will ensure that the Attorney General's Memorandum is effectively implemented. The designees will be responsible for working directly with the leadership offices on civil cases related to religious liberty, ensuring that these cases receive the rigorous attention they deserve.