A new directive from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is being viewed as a victory for religious freedom.
The Family Research Council (FRC) says the policy guidance released Monday by USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service makes clear the agency will protect religious freedom and will not discriminate against anyone based on their beliefs regarding marriage and sexuality.
The guidance, titled "First Amendment and Religious Beliefs: Questions and Answers," states:
"... opinions about same-sex marriage, gender identity, and sexual morality are all matters of public importance .... USDA respects the First Amendment rights of USDA personnel, as well as non-USDA personnel working at facilities inspected by USDA, to share their varying viewpoints on these topics, whether through oral discussion, the display or distribution of literature, or other means."
This guidance resolves threats made by USDA inspectors against the Vander Boon family who owns a Michigan meat packing facility. Nearly two years ago, inspectors threatened to shut down the family's business, displacing 45 employees, if they place religious material concerning marriage in the break room of the business.
"It's unacceptable for the USDA to be threatening people it is inspecting in this area, in this regard, and we thought it important that the USDA clarify that this had to stop and people like Mr. Vander Boon would be protected," says Travis Weber, director of FRC's Center for Religious Liberty. "We're pleased to see the USDA take this step."
This development follows up on Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue's policy statement on the First Amendment, and a subsequent memorandum explaining that policy stating that "USDA employees must act to avoid the limiting or chilling of protected speech" in facilities inspected by the USDA.
"You could have another administration take over the USDA and remove this guidance, but it is policy right now and it's a good policy," Weber continues. "This is a concrete example of the Trump administration protecting religious liberty."