Sessions announces new 'religious liberty task force'

By Sarah Hallam, CNN

(CNN) -- Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday announced the Department of Justice's creation of a "religious liberty task force" to "help the department fully implement our religious guidance."

In a speech at the Department of Justice's Religious Liberty Summit in Washington, Sessions said the goal of the task force will be protecting religious groups from persecution.

"The task force will help the department fully implement our religious liberty guidance by ensuring that all Justice Department components are upholding that guidance in the cases they bring and defend, the arguments they make in court, the policies and regulations they adopt and how we conduct our operations," Sessions said. "That includes making sure that our employees know their duties to accommodate people of faith."

Sessions cited "a dangerous movement" aimed toward stripping away the First Amendment right to freedom of religion as a basis for forming the new task force.

"A dangerous movement, undetected by many, is now challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom," Sessions said in his speech. "There can be no doubt. This is no little matter. It must be confronted and defeated."

This is not the first time Sessions promoted the idea of federal protections for religious groups.

Sessions issued a religious liberty memorandum following President Donald Trump's executive order in May 2017, which outlined how federal administrative agencies and executive departments should interpret federal law to protect religious groups.

In a memo released Monday morning, Sessions highlighted how the task force would implement the memorandum released last year.

"The Religious Liberty Task Force will continue the Department's ongoing work to implement the Religious Liberty Memorandum and the implementation memorandum," Sessions stated in the memo. "The Task Force will also consider new initiatives that will further the Department's work to protect and promote religious liberty."

The task force will be co-chaired by Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio and Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy Beth Williams.

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