By Jack Jenkins
A group of more than 250 interfaith leaders rallied in Washington D.C. on Monday morning to protest the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) for Attorney General, claiming that Trump’s controversial pick is morally unfit to run the Department of Justice.
The leaders gathered in downtown D.C. before marching to Senate offices, hoping to persuade lawmakers to reject Sessions—whose controversial ideological positions have been described by many as “extreme.” Participants included Jewish, Muslim, and Christian leaders, such as North Carolina NAACP president and Moral Mondays organizer Rev. William Barber II.
“A misguided ruler, Mr. Trump, has nominated Sen. Jeff Sessions for Attorney General of the United States,” Barber said. “But Sessions’ immoral record shows consistent support for ideological extremism, racist and classist policies, and the writing of discrimination into law.”
“[Sessions], proven by his record and his words, does not share our shared values of love, justice, and mercy,” he added. “Sen. McConnell and the judiciary committee should reject him, he should pull his name, and Trump should pull it back.”
“[Sessions], proven by his record and his words, does not share our shared values of love, justice, and mercy.”
Speakers noted Sessions has endured numerous accusations of racism, such as when he charged three organizers—including a former aide of Martin Luther King Jr.—with counts of voter fraud because they were helping elderly black voters get absentee ballots and register to vote. Sessions also allegedly once joked that he thought the Ku Klux Klan was “okay” until he learned members “smoked marijuana,” and a former employee testified in the 1980s that he referred to the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Operation PUSH, and the National Conference of Churches as “un-American.” Sessions denied the accusations, but the controversy was enough to convince lawmakers to block him from taking a judgeship position on the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama.
For Jason Kimelman-Block, Representative of Jewish advocacy organization Bend the Arc, this spotted history was more than enough to discredit the nomination of Sessions.
“What Sessions stands for is far outside of the mainstream,” he said. “The role of Attorney General requires a demonstrated commitment to providing equal protection under the law. Jeff Sessions unequivocally fails that test, and should not be confirmed.”
Other speakers cited the senator’s negative remarks about immigrants, who he once said “create culture problems.” He has also long fought against immigration reform, opposes plans to create a path to citizenship for America’s 11 million undocumented people, and once supported a failed Alabama law that would have made any house of worship that assisted an undocumented immigrant subject to prosecution.
“[This law made] the job of clergy and the command of Christ Jesus to love your neighbor illegal in the eyes of the state.”
“[The Alabama law made] the job of clergy and the command of Christ Jesus to love your neighbor illegal in the eyes of the state,” said Rev. Alyssa Aldape, Associate Minister at Washington’s First Baptist Church. “A person who supports such persecution is unfit to lead my country in the Department of Justice.”
Aldape went on to invoke the Christian celebration of Epiphany, which commemorates the biblical story of when three “kings” or “wise men” visited Jesus shortly after his birth. She noted that the wise men defied King Herod, an oppressive king mentioned in the Bible, by refusing to turn the baby Jesus over to him.
“Epiphany should remind us that the gospel is not crime,” she said.
Participants also noted that Sessions has received awards from David Horowitz Freedom Center and Center for Security Policy—organizations whose leaders have voiced anti-Muslim views—and was recently described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “champion of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant extremists.”
“A reputation is not based on what you are going to do, it is based on what you have done,” said Talib M. Shareef, the Imam at the “Nation’s Mosque” in Washington, D.C. “And what we have seen Senator Sessions do should bring fear to us.”
“A reputation is not based on what you are going to do, it is based on what you have done. And what we have seen Senator Sessions do should bring fear to us.”
The nomination of Sessions and several other prospective cabinet members has been passionately opposed by several groups, including progressive people of faith. Another interfaith gathering to reject Trump’s cabinet picks occurred in December, when a similar group blasted the list of nominations as a “cabinet of bigotry.” And last Friday, the National Council of Churches—along with the Conference of National Black Churches, the Ecumenical Poverty Initiative, and the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference—issued an uncharacteristically bold statement that described Sessions and other nominees as people who “epitomize extremist, racist and fringe world views that we believe are morally inconsistent with Christian principles.” PICO, an advocacy group that claims to be the “largest faith-based organizing network in the United States,” also spoke out against Sessions on Monday, saying he “has chosen not to show love to his neighbors.”
Monday’s gathering was organized in part by Faith in Public Life, a progressive faith organization, and many of the participants hailed from progressive churches and traditions—evidence of a resurgent “Religious Left” that has been energized in opposition to Trump’s election.
Barber, however, insisted the gathering wasn’t partisan.
“We’re not liberal or conservative, we’re both,” he said. “We want to conserve justice and liberally spread it to everybody. We are here today representing the moral center.”
Still, the pastor took a moment to chide the president-elect himself. Barber pushed back on comments made by Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway on CNN Monday morning, when she implored the media not to dwell on what comes “out of [Trump’s] mouth,” but rather “look at what’s in his heart.”
“Well the Bible says what comes out of you defiles you,” Barber said, referencing Matthew 15:11. “You have to be concerned about words, because the power of life and death is in the tongue.”