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DOJ Refuses Requests for Text of Speech Jeff Sessions Gave to an Anti-Gay Hate Group (But Here It Is)

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Sends Speech to Right Wing Website

The Department of Justice has either ignored or refused requests from media outlets like Buzzfeed, and at least one progressive advocacy organization, People for the American Way, to hand over the text of a speech Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivered in California behind closed doors to a group that appears on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of active anti-gay hate groups.

The speech was given by Sessions to the Alliance Defending Freedom on Tuesday. It was published Thursday afernoon by The Federalist, a right wing conservative website. Buzzfeed’s Dominic Holden was the first to report Sessions would be delivering the speech. On Thursday Holden published his report on the speech, and via Twitter posted the Freedom of Information (FOIA) request he filed with the DOJ that was ignored.

“A person familiar with the situation tells me the Justice Dept DID provide Sessions’s remarks to The Federalist,” Holden reports. It’s unclear why the DOJ chose a small right wing website rather than share the text with all who requested it, or why it did not just post the text on its site as a matter of course. 

Was Sessions or the DOJ concerned about its content? They have good reason to be.

RELATED: DOJ Refuses to Explain Why Jeff Sessions Is Speaking to an Anti-Gay Hate Group Tonight Behind Closed Doors

The DOJ’s refusal to release the text of his remarks has highlighted the group’s extremism, causing some on the right to lambast the hate group label. But the SPLC is clear in the criteria they use to define hate groups, and among them is the repeated spreading of false statements in an effort to marginalize groups of people. The SPLC has produced a 949 word profile of the attacks on LGBT people made by the ADF.

All that said, now we have the text of the Attorney General’s speech, and much of it is of great concern.

Sessions talks about “the Western heritage of faith and reason,” and says, “I propose that in America our understanding of religious freedom can only be understood within that heritage.”

“Heritage” is a dog whistle term, especially concerning when people like Sessions – who has a long history of racist allegations tailing him – use it.

So our freedom as citizens has always been inextricably linked with our religious freedom as a people,” Sessions says. But he does, surprisingly, add: “It has protected both the freedom to worship and the freedom not to believe as well.”

Sessions then laments, “the cultural climate has become less hospitable to people of faith and to religious belief. And in recent years, many Americans have felt that their freedom to practice their faith has been under attack. This feeling is understandable. Just last year, a Harvard Law professor publicly urged judges to ‘take aggressively liberal positions…The culture wars are over. They lost; we won…Taking a hard line is better than trying to accommodate the losers.'”

It’s clear in his speech that Sessions has taken sides, and is ill-prepared to see all Americans equally. His speech reveals an “us vs. them” approach, and as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, that is chilling.

And he doubles down, in a very partisan manner.

I believe that this recent election was significantly impacted by this concern and that this motivated many voters. President Trump made a promise that was heard. In substance, he said he respected people of faith and he promised to protect them in the free exercise of their faith. This promise was well received.”

And then, it comes.

In all of this litigation and debate, this Department of Justice will never allow this secular government of ours to demand that sincere religious beliefs be abandoned,” Sessions says. “We will not require American citizens to give intellectual assent to doctrines that are contrary to their religious beliefs. And they must be allowed to exercise those beliefs as the First Amendment guarantees.”

“We will defend freedom of conscience resolutely. That is inalienable. That is our heritage.”

Heritage, again.

What does Sessions intend to do when a religious belief contradicts the law?

Well, here’s the answer, a very partisan support of Donald Trump.

“Since he was elected, President Trump has been an unwavering defender of religious liberty. He has promised that under a Trump Administration, ‘the federal government will never, ever penalize any person for their protected religious beliefs.’ And he is fulfilling that promise. First, President Trump appointed an outstanding Supreme Court justice with a track record of applying the law as written, Neil Gorsuch. I have confidence that he will be faithful to the full meaning of the First Amendment and protect the rights of all Americans.”

And then, what progressives, liberals, LGBT people, women, minorities, and many others should see as a warning. The elevation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

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.”

The guidance will also help agencies follow the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Congress enacted RFRA so that, if the federal government imposes a burden on somebody’s religious practice, it had better have a compelling reason. That is a demanding standard, and it’s the law of the land. We will follow it just as faithfully as we follow every other federal law. If we’re going to ensure that religious liberty is adequately protected and our country remains free, then we must ensure that RFRA is followed.

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.

This administration, and the upcoming guidance, will be animated by that same American view that has led us for 241 years: that every American has a right to believe, worship, and exercise their faith in the public square. It has served this country well, and it has made us not only one of the tolerant countries in the world, it has also helped make us the freeist and most generous. Thank you.

Consider this fair warning. 

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News

Trump’s Scheme for Absolute Immunity From State Prosecutions Forever: Report

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Having successfully obtained delays in his federal trials and his state trial in Georgia, possibly until after the November election, Donald Trump is now seeking an “insurance policy” to protect him from any future state prosecutions if he again becomes president.

The indicted ex-president who turns 78 next month “seems convinced that if he wins another four years in the White House, state prosecutors will still be waiting for him on the other side of his term — ready to put him on trial, or even in prison, just as they are now,” Rolling Stone reports.

“To avoid such risks, the former and perhaps future president of the United States wants Congress to create a very specific insurance policy that would help keep him out of prison forever, two sources familiar with the matter tell Rolling Stone. Trump vaguely alluded to this idea last week outside his New York criminal hush money trial, when he said he has urged Republican lawmakers to pass ‘laws to stop things like this.'”

Trump “has pressured” Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill to do so, describing it as imperative that he signs such a bill into law, if he again ascends to the Oval Office.”

READ MORE: Pence Defense of Alito’s Insurrectionist Flag Highlights Its Ties to Violent Government Overthrow

Rolling Stone also notes, “Trump appears fixated on the idea of passing a law to give former American presidents the option of moving state or local prosecutions into a federal court instead, the two sources add.”

Trump “has hinted at a legislative push to limit his exposure to such criminal charges. In an improvised press conference outside the Manhattan courthouse on Tuesday, Trump said he’s been telling the Republican lawmakers who want to attend his trial and show solidarity to focus on legislation instead.”

“We have a lot of ’em. They want to come. I say, ‘Just stay back and pass lots of laws to stop things like this.’”

In 1973, while still President but under the cloud of the Watergate scandal, Richard Nixon said, “People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook.”

If Trump is elected in November, he can have his Attorney General drop any federal prosecutions he is currently facing. That may call into question, for some legal experts, the actions of the far-right justices on the U.S. Supreme Court who have delayed ruling on his immunity claim, and U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon.

On May 7, Judge Cannon indefinitely suspended the Espionage Act case, also known as the classified documents case, against Donald Trump.

READ MORE: ‘You Just Don’t Do It’: Federal Judge Denounces Alito’s Flags as ‘Stop the Steal’ Stickers

Foreign policy, national security, and political affairs analyst and commentator David Rothkopf this week blasted the judge:

“Judge Cannon is not, as commentators and cartoonists would have it, just working on behalf of Trump. She is actively working on behalf of the enemies of the US who have and would benefit from the national security breaches she is effectively defending and making more likely.”

U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) earlier this month declared, “The courts are deliberately delaying justice — and effectively denying it.”

This coming week Americans may get a verdict in the New York criminal case against the ex-president. If it comes, it may be “guilty” or “not guilty,” but it could also be a hung jury, forcing another trial which also would not likely come before the election.

If Trump is elected in November, and can get his “insurance policy” legislation passed, he could possibly avoid all criminal trials for the rest of his life.

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OPINION

Pence Defense of Alito’s Insurrectionist Flag Highlights Its Ties to Violent Government Overthrow

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Mike Pence is defending far-right U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, whose ethics and ability to serve on the nation’s highest court are being questioned after The New York Times revealed he had been flying a highly-controversial flag used by the January 6 insurrectionists, neo-Nazis, and a far-right neo-fascist hate group. Democrats are demanding the justice recuse himself from all cases involving Donald Trump and the 2020 presidential election, and some are also demanding his resignation or impeachment.

The former Trump Vice President, in defending Alito, may have made the situation even worse for the 74-year old jurist by highlighting the flag’s ties to revolution and the overthrow of government. In his defense Pence also encourages all Americans to fly the flag: “The ‘Appeal to Heaven’ flag is part or our proud heritage of Faith and Freedom and every American should be proud to fly it,” he writes.

“The Appeal to Heaven Flag” dates back centuries, to the American Revolution, but in recent years was very clearly co-opted by the radical religious right and was seen being carried by the insurrectionists during the assault on the U.S. Capitol, some of whom who chanted, “hang Mike Pence,” as he and his family were being whisked away by Secret Service on January 6:

MSNBC columnist Sarah Posner, who for years has been writing about religion and politics, on Thursday noted, “the more one knows about the background of the flag, the more chilling its presence at [Alito’s] house becomes.”

READ MORE: ‘You Just Don’t Do It’: Federal Judge Denounces Alito’s Flags as ‘Stop the Steal’ Stickers

Posner says the flag is “an unmistakable emblem for an influential segment of Christian nationalists who claim the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump, contrary to God’s will, and that believers’ spiritual warfare is essential to restoring God’s anointed leader to his rightful office.”

“It was one of numerous Christian nationalist flags and other iconography carried by Trump supporters Jan. 6 and at the Jericho March, a series of prayer rallies that were like jet fuel for the insurrection,” Posner explains. “The Jericho March featured right-wing evangelical and Catholic speakers alongside militants such as conspiracist Alex Jones, Trump’s disgraced national security adviser Michael Flynn, and Oathkeepers founder Stewart Rhodes, now serving an 18-year prison sentence for seditious conspiracy and other crimes.”

Posner adds the flag “originated in Revolutionary times as a call to take up arms against unjust rulers who ignored the pleas of their citizens.”

Pence also refers to the Revolutionary War in his defense of Justice Alito, ignoring that the Revolutionary War was won several hundred years ago, and ignoring that a sitting U.S. Supreme Court justice promoting the very concept of taking up arms against rulers, unjust or otherwise, is, as constitutional scholar and University Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, Laurence Tribe wrote, “close to treason.”

Pence calls the “controversy” of Justice Alito’s flag-flying “absurd and anti-historical.” He quotes English Enlightenment philosopher John Locke, promoting his idea of the right to revolution, to replace a government.

In its Bombshell report Wednesday announcing the existence of a second Alito flag tied to the insurrectionists, The New York Times explains the Locke tie to the “Appeal to Heaven” flag.

READ MORE: Trump Adviser Scanned and Saved Contents of Box That Had Classified Docs: Report

“Since its creation during the American Revolution, the flag has carried a message of defiance: The phrase ‘appeal to heaven’ comes from the 17th-century philosopher John Locke, who wrote of a responsibility to rebel, even use violence, to overthrow unjust rule. ‘It’s a paraphrase for trial by arms,’ Anthony Grafton, a historian at Princeton University, said in an interview. ‘The main point is that there’s no appeal, there’s no one else you can ask for help or a judgment.'”

Coincidentally or not, Grafton’s “trial by arms” seems to echo Trump acolyte Rudy Giuliani’s January 6 speech in which he specifically called for “trial by combat.”

Religious studies scholar Matthew Taylor, quoted in The New York Times’ report on Alito’s “Appeal to Heaven” flag, told CBS News (video below) Christian nationalist leader Dutch Sheets “was given one of these flags and he believed that he received a prophecy when he received this flag, that it was a symbol of a revolution that would take place in America, a spiritual revolution that would reconstitute the United States as a truly Christian nation.”

He adds the “Appeal to Heaven” flag has become a “very potent symbol of Christian nationalism, Christian Trumpism, opposition to abortion, opposition to gay marriage, and the desire for a more Christian America.”

Watch the videos above or at this link.

READ MORE: Trump’s Bronx Rally Attendance Claim Fuels Mockery as Aerial Images Show a Different Story

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OPINION

‘You Just Don’t Do It’: Federal Judge Denounces Alito’s Flags as ‘Stop the Steal’ Stickers

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A senior U.S. district judge is denouncing U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito‘s flying of two insurrection-related flags at his homes in Virginia and New Jersey, declaring the actions “improper. And dumb.”

Judge Michael Ponsor, 77, who has served on the federal bench since 1984, writes in a Friday New York Times op-ed that he has “known scores, possibly hundreds, of federal trial and appellate judges pretty well,” and “can’t think of a single one, no matter who appointed her or him, who has engaged or would engage in conduct like that.”

“You just don’t do that sort of thing, whether it may be considered over the line, or just edging up to the margin. Flying those flags was tantamount to sticking a ‘Stop the steal’ bumper sticker on your car. You just don’t do it.”

Justice Alito’s first flag scandal came late last week, when The New York Times reported an upside down U.S. flag had flown at his Virginia home jut days before Joe Biden was sworn in as President. That flag is associated with the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021. As of January, more than 1200 who were there that day have been arrested and charged with crimes.

Alito blamed his wife, claiming she made the decision to fly the flag upside down, which according to the U.S. flag code should only be done to signal distress. Martha-Ann Alito, her husband claimed, had gotten into an argument with a neighbor and manifested her anger by flying the “Stop the Steal” flag.

READ MORE: ‘Investigate Now’: As Alito Scandal Grows Pressure Mounts on ‘MIA’ and ‘AWOL’ Judiciary Chair

The second flag scandal came on Wednesday, when The Times again revealed an Alito insurrection-related flag, this time at his New Jersey home, where the Alitos were flying the “Appeal to Heaven” flag which has ties both to the insurrectionists, and to extreme right Christian nationalists.

Justice Alito has not made any public comment defending his second flag.

Judge Ponsor offered up a hypothetical to counter Justice Alito’s claim his wife was to blame, in this case, an example of him presiding over a death penalty case.

“Let’s say my wife was strongly opposed to the death penalty and wished to speak out publicly against it. I’m not saying this is true, but let’s imagine it. The primary emotional current in our marriage is, of course, deep and passionate love, but right next to that is equally deep and passionate respect. We would have had a problem, and we would have needed to talk,” Ponsor explained.

“In this hypothetical situation, I hope that my wife would have held off making any public statements about capital punishment, and restrained herself from talking about the issue with me, while the trial unfolded. On the other hand, if my wife had felt strongly that she needed to espouse her viewpoint publicly, I would have had to recuse myself from presiding over the case, based on the appearance of partiality.”

READ MORE: ‘Going for the Jugular’: Legal Scholar Warns ‘Trumpers’ Want to End Major Civil Right

Note he mentions as a sitting federal judge he would have applied the same standards that jurors are expected to observe: to not discuss the case with anyone, including their spouses.

And should there have been a discussion, or if she were to air her views publicly, he would be forced to recuse himself from the case.

Justice Alito has not recused from any 2020 presidential election cases, any Trump-related cases, any insurrection-related cases.

That includes the Trump “absolute immunity” case the Supreme Court heard in April, for which they have yet to rule.

The Supreme Court “recently adopted an ethics code to ‘guide the conduct’ of the justices,” Ponsor observes. “One of its canons states that a justice should ‘act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.’ That’s all very well. But basic ethical behavior should not rely on laws or regulations. It should be folded into a judge’s DNA. That didn’t happen here.”

READ MORE: Trump Adviser Scanned and Saved Contents of Box That Had Classified Docs: Report

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