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Trump Administration To Take On Religious Discrimination Claims

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Trump administration is ready to take on claims by houses of worship that they face discrimination in seeking building permits from local authorities, Attorney General Jeff Sessions told an Orthodox Jewish conclave.

On Wednesday, Sessions told the annual Orthodox Union Washington conference that he was establishing a program called the A Place to Worship Initiative that will train federal prosecutors in assisting houses of worship that have made claims under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act passed in 2000.

He also said that federal prosecutors in New Jersey were joining a lawsuit filed by Valley Lake Chabad in Woodcliff Lake claiming discrimination under the land use act. Chabad claimed that the Northern New Jersey town blocked its efforts for eight years to build a larger synagogue or expand the current one.

The lawsuit and training program are the latest signals of aggressive Trump administration involvement in religious discrimination cases. The administration backed a bake shop in Colorado that refused service to a gay couple seeking a wedding cake; the Orthodox Union filed a brief in support of the shop in the Supreme Court case, which was decided last week in its favor.

Sessions thanked the Orthodox Union for joining on the side of the baker and the government, earning applause.

“There are plenty of other people who will bake that cake, give me a break,” he said.

Sessions said his Justice Department also is aggressively prosecuting hate crimes, including against religious groups.

The O.U. presented Sessions with an artistic rendering of the biblical command “Justice, justice shalt thou pursue.”

Alyssa Fisher is a news writer at the Forward. Email her at fisher@forward.com, or follow her on Twitter at @alyssalfisher

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