Congress Presses Attorney General on OLC Memo

Earlier today, the House Committee on the Judiciary held an oversight hearing, questioning U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch about the activities of the Department of Justice. During the hearing, Lynch occupied the hot seat while members of the committee peppered her with questions on everything from homeland security to voting rights.

One Member of Congress, Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN), used the hearing as an opportunity to bring attention to a 2007 Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memorandum that uses the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to justify religious hiring discrimination. Rep. Cohen asked the Attorney General to commit to instructing the OLC to review and reconsider the memo.  She responded that she would look into the issue and provide a response.

Americans United, along with 130 religious, civil rights, reproductive rights, and LGBT groups, have previously urged the Administration to review and reconsider the OLC memo. In a letter sent in August 2015, our coalition asked the President to order OLC to review and reconsider the memo, explaining that it erroneously sanctions taxpayer-funded discrimination by providing a blanket exemption to laws that protect against discrimination. We continue to urge the Administration to repeal the erroneous OLC memo not only because it allows for hiring discrimination, but also because of its far-reaching effects: It is now being used to justify denying healthcare services in government-funded programs and as an excuse to ignore provisions barring sex discrimination in the Affordable Care Act.

We thank Rep. Cohen today for asking Attorney General Lynch what the Department of Justice plans to do to make sure that the Administration reconsiders the harmful OLC memo and put a stop to the use of RFRA to discriminate.