The federal government directive was issued today by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had been tasked by Trump to head a "review" of religious liberty protections, after pressure from anti-LGBT lobbying groups.
Justice Department officials say the analysis was produced to follow up on President Donald Trump's executive order on religious freedom in May, and they say it sets no new policies and isn't directly related to any pending legal dispute.
It lifts a burden from religious objectors to prove their beliefs about marriage or other topics are sincerely held. "Freedom of religion is paramount to our nation's success, but does give people the right to impose their beliefs on others, to harm other, or to discriminate".
Religious liberty expert Robin Fretwell Wilson says the memo could force agencies to re-think their protections on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The right to free exercise of one's faith is good and important and valuable, sure, but in this context, the interpretation of that right has serious consequences for other rights, too.
Sessions' guidelines comes on the same day that the Trump administration ended a provision of the Affordable Care Act requiring businesses to include birth control as part of insurance coverage.
"Today the Trump-Pence administration launched an all-out assault on LGBTQ people, women, and other minority communities by unleashing a sweeping license to discriminate", said Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin.
The attorney general will also issue a memorandum to all divisions and offices within the U.S. Department of Justice on how to implement and enforce these religious-liberty protections.
Faith-based groups and members of Congress alike applauded Sessions' memo, expressing optimism that his guidance might help correct recent infringements on the religious rights of Americans. The concern is that the government would interpret this to allow a religiously affiliated entity to contract with the government even if won't provide services essential to and required of contractors and even if third parties will be harmed.
Rebecca Isaacs, executive director of the Equality Federation, said in a statement the religious freedom guidance is a "license to discriminate" and "an attack on the values of freedom and fairness that make this nation great".
"All Americans should have the freedom to peacefully live and work consistent with their faith without fear of government punishment", said Michael Farris, the president of the Alliance Defending Freedom.
Elsewhere, the memo asserts that religious groups "generally may not be required to alter their religious character to participate in a government program".
But the justice department, led by Sessions, argued that the 1964 Civil Rights Act - which outlaws discrimination based on a number of characteristics - does not provide any protections for gay people, despite outlawing sex-based discrimination.
"A law that seeks to compel a private person's speech or expression contrary to his or her religious beliefs implicates both the freedoms of speech and free exercise", which Sessions wrote in the appendix, bolsters the argument of the baker who doesn't want to make a cake for a gay man or woman's birthday.
It remains to be seen if legal organizations will file lawsuits over the guidance for compromising the rights of LGBT people and others. "We welcome President Trump's commitment to continue this legacy of protecting religious liberty".
For example, Louise Melling, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that the guidance could allow a religious employer to fire an employee who had a child out of wedlock or fire an employee who married a same-sex partner.
Civil rights groups say women, and gay or transgender individuals could likely face the worst discrimination under the the guidance.
Additionally, in 2015 while Mike Pence was governor, in passed its own version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, despite outcry from opponents who argued the bill could be used to legally discriminate against LGBTI people.