This week, Jeff Sessions gave a closed-door speech to the Alliance Defending Freedom, a pro-life anti-LGBTQ Christian legal advocacy group. Today, you may know the ADF for the current Supreme Court case in which it is defending a baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. But it’s also the nation’s most powerful such conservative Christian group and the architect of early prototypes of anti-transgender bathroom bills and same-sex marriage bans. The ADF fought on behalf of anti-sodomy laws, and in his 2003 book, recent ADF president Alan Sears wrote that legalizing gay sex was akin to legalizing pedophilia.
So what did Jeff Sessions have to say, hmmm?
The DOJ refused to release the speech, but it was published in full today on the conservative outlet The Federalist, republished on Mother Jones.
Sessions made no mention of the ADF’s specific initiatives, just called theirs “important work,” and referred to the group broadly as defenders of marginalized people whose freedoms are under threat, like being black in 1963. Here’s a sample in which he invokes the Civil Rights Movement:
And of course it was faith that inspired Martin Luther King Jr. to march and strive to make this country stronger yet. His was a religious movement. The faith that truth would overcome. He said that we “must not seek to solve the problem” of segregation merely for political reasons, but “in the final analysis, we must get rid of segregation because it is sinful.” It undermined the promise, as he described it, that “each individual has certain basic rights that are neither derived from nor conferred by the state…they are gifts from the hands of the Almighty God.”
Skipping the obvious irony about the call to end segregation, like in public bathrooms–when you chop and screw MLK’s mission of equal rights and apply it to the ADF’s cases, which come down to limiting or taking other people’s rights away–it suggests that gay rights and abortion are not actually rights, but threats. One Civil Rights image in particular comes to mind.
The real dickery of Sessions’ quote, though, is that he knows that Martin Luther King Jr. would have been disgusted. Back in 1986, Martin Luther King’s widow Coretta Scott King wrote a letter to Congress urging them to block Sessions’ nomination as a federal judge:
Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts...Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship.
When Elizabeth Warren tried to read that letter in a debate over Sessions’ nomination in February, Mitch McConnell silenced her. Now Sessions is using Martin Luther King’s words to further his agenda.
It’s hard to imagine a more sickeningly vapid GOP black mirror bait-and-switch than the one Sessions just used: to appropriate the moral righteousness of people you are very specifically fucking over, in order to continue fucking them over, while purporting to lead their own struggle, which is specifically against you and everything you stand for.
Sessions also recalled that the government was not founded as a theocracy and that it “would not take sides” (the Muslim Ban the Muslim Ban the Muslim Ban) and yet repeatedly noted that we have a president who is “an unwavering defender of religious liberty”:
Under this administration, religious Americans will be treated neither as an afterthought nor as a problem to be managed. The federal government will actively find ways to accommodate people of all faiths. The protections enshrined in the Constitution and our laws protect all Americans, including when we work together, speak in the public square, and when we interact with our government. We don’t waive our constitutional rights when we participate fully in public life and civic society.
We’re not sure what freeing members of the ADF to “participate fully in public life” means, but he promised we’ll find out soon:
The president has also directed me to issue guidance on how to apply federal religious liberty protections. The department is finalizing this guidance, and I will soon issue it.
Can’t wait to see how my freedom is going to be improved.