October 6, 2017 at 5:19 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
White House invokes ‘religious freedom’ to justify Trump’s actions
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, gay news, Washington Blade

Sarah Huckabee Sanders invokes religious freedom to justifies Trump’s actions. (Screenshot via CSPAN)

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended on Friday the end to the contraception mandate under Obamacare by asserting President Trump believes in “freedom of religion” — an often-used phrase to justify anti-LGBT discrimination that could apply other Trump administration actions.

Asked by the Fox Business Network about the American Civil Liberties Union’s threat to file a lawsuit in response to the reversal of the contraception mandate, Sanders argued the administration’s action was in line with President Trump’s belief in religious freedom.

“I don’t think it’s been a secret that I would probably never use the ACLU to get any of my talking points,” Sanders said. “The president believes the freedom to practice one’s faith is a fundamental right in this country, and I think all of us do, and that’s all that today was about. Our federal government should always protect that right, and as long as Donald Trump is president, he will.”

Although the comments were made in response to the end of the contraception mandate, they could also be construed as a defense to the “religious freedom” guidance U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued on the same day, which critics say could lead to anti-LGBT discrimination.

Pressed on what she’d say to women who fear losing their contraception coverage as result of the Trump administration’s actions, Sanders returned to religious liberty.

“This is a president who supports the First Amendment, supports the freedom of religion,” Sanders said. “I don’t think I understand why that should be an issue. The Supreme Court has validated this decision certainly many times over. And the president is somebody who believes in the Constitution. If people don’t like what the Constitution says, they should talk to Congress about changing it.”

The reference to the U.S. Supreme Court was likely a reference to its 2015 decision in the Hobby Lobby case, although that was decided on a statutory basis under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, not the U.S. Constitution.

When NBC News asked if the Trump administration is prepared to fight all the way back to the Supreme Court, Sanders said justices have “already made clear what their position is, and it supports what this administration has done.”

Sanders predicted victory when asked if she’s confident the issue wouldn’t return to the Supreme Court.

“I think if it does, it will show that this administration is on the right side of the law,” Sanders said.

Ian Thompson, legislative director for the ACLU, said using “religious freedom” to justify the actions of the Trump administration is totally off base.

“Contrary to the Justice Department guidance, religious freedom does not allow anyone to impose their beliefs onto others, or to discriminate or harm,” Thompson said. “The administration’s disgraceful actions today advance discrimination, not religious freedom.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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