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Ministers interrupt Sessions, are removed from religious freedom conference

The attorney general was speaking at a conference on the future of religious liberty when two ministers challenged his fealty to the Bible.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at a luncheon event organized by the Boston Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society at a hotel in Boston on Oct. 29, 2018.Steven Senne / AP
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By Alex Johnson

Attorney General Jeff Sessions' speech at a religious freedom conference on Monday was interrupted by two pastors who were summarily removed from the premises as Sessions described the remarks as an "attack."

Sessions was defending the Trump administration's campaign against what it calls discriminatory religious laws during a conference on the future of religious liberty organized by the Boston Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society, a nonprofit conservative legal group.

Shortly into his remarks, the Rev. Will Green, pastor of Ballard Vale United Church, a joint United Methodist/Church of Christ congregation in Andover, stood up and began addressing the attorney general.

"Brother Jeff, as a fellow United Methodist, I call upon you to repent, to care for those in need," Green said.

Green then recited Matthew 25:42-43, which begins: "For I was hungry, and you did not feed me. I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me."

Sessions replied, "Well, thank you for those remarks and attack, but I would just tell you we do our best every day."

After security officers escorted Green out of the room, a second minister, the Rev. Darrell Hamilton II, the pastor for formation and outreach at First Baptist Church of Jamaica Plain in Boston, then rose to his defense.

"That is a person that represents the Christian tradition, the faith that everyone here professes to believe in, actually sharing the words of Jesus himself, the words of Jesus that are represented in the book of Isaiah," Hamilton said.

Security then began escorting Hamilton out as some in the audience booed and heckled him.

"I thought we were here to protect religious liberty, sir. I thought we were here to protect religious liberty," he said.

"I am a pastor of a Baptist church, and you are escorting me out for exercising my religious freedom," Hamilton said, adding: "That is very hypocritical for this group of people to be wanting to be protecting religious freedom while you are escorting me out for doing that work."

Sessions resumed his prepared remarks, after saying, "Thank you all for your comments, and we're glad to hear them, but that's pretty close to what we refer to as the heckler's veto — the ability of one individual to prevent others in a proper forum to be able to express a hopefully coherent thought about a serious subject."

In an interview with Religion News Service afterward, Green said he interrupted Sessions "because his entire political agenda is antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ."

"I think I have a responsibility to call him to account about the harm he's doing," Green said.

Hamilton said in an email message to Religion News Service: "Jeff Sessions is not a champion of true religious liberty. And as a Baptist preacher, in the long legacy of Baptist preachers such as Roger Williams and John Leland, I disrupted Jeff Sessions to defend the protection of both soul and religious freedom of all people as a true witness of Christian religion practice."

Sessions' aggressive pursuit of some parts of Trump's agenda has created discord within the United Methodist Church, of which Sessions is a member and for which he has long taught Sunday school classes.

In June, about 640 United Methodist clergy and church members brought church law charges against Sessions over the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policies on immigration, accusing him of "dissemination of doctrines contrary to the standards of doctrine of the United Methodist Church."

The charges were dropped in August. Church leaders said the regulations didn't apply because Sessions was acting as a government official, not as a member of the church.

Alex Johnson

Alex Johnson is a senior writer for NBC News covering general news, with an emphasis on explanatory journalism, data analysis, technology and religion. He is based in Los Angeles.

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