Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke to a self-described Christian religious freedom advocacy group known for anti-gay stances Tuesday evening, and the Justice Department is keeping his remarks under wraps.
Sessions’ attendance at the closed-press “Summit on Religious Liberty” hosted by the Alliance Defending Freedom, was first disclosed Tuesday morning – but the department has declined requests to release his full remarks.
Alliance Defending Freedom – which on its website says it is dedicated to promoting religious freedom but is also known for having taken aggressive anti-gay marriage stands – is currently embroiled in a high-profile case that will be heard by the Supreme Court next term. The group is representing a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, claiming that to do so would violate his right to religious liberty under the Constitution.
In response to a CNN request, the group said that it would not provide a transcript of Sessions’ remarks.
LGBTQ rights organizations blasted Sessions for attending the event.
“ADF is the most extreme anti-gay legal organization – so extreme that it does not concede even that gay or transgender people should be permitted to exist as such,” said Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “They are a truly destructive force in our country, and it is appalling that the attorney general of the United States would lend them the imprimatur of his office.”
Several other LGBTQ advocates said they were particularly troubled by the decision to keep Sessions’ remarks private.
“The attorney general has every right to speak to a group like Alliance Defending Freedom,” said David Stacy, Government Affairs Director of Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights group promoting LGBTQ equality. “What troubles us is that his remarks are being kept hidden from the public at the same time he has been tasked by the President with issuing religious discrimination policies that ADF has long promoted.”
In May, President Donald Trump signed an executive order entitled, “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty,” which directed Sessions to “issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in federal law,” but nothing has happened to date.
“Many times during the Obama administration, HRC hosted appearances by the president, vice president and Cabinet officials – I cannot remember a single instance in which those remarks were not fully open to the media and the remarks and/or video made widely available to the public,” Stacy added.
Sessions pledged his support late last month to “continue to enforce hate crime laws aggressively,” and revealed for the first time his focus on crimes against those in the transgender community, despite previous opposition as a senator to the federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
The Justice Department’s LGBTQ affinity group also celebrated Pride month in June, though it remains unclear what administration officials said at the event, because it too was closed to the press.
CNN’s Ariane de Vogue contributed to this report.