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Plymouth — Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday praised the Trump administration’s policy of protecting the free expression of religion, especially in public places, calling him an "unwavering defender" of religious liberty. 

"Our Constitution doesn’t just protect freedom of thought or the freedom to worship in secret," Sessions told the crowd here at an annual awards dinner of the Michigan chapter of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group. "It protects the open expression and exercise of religious belief in public. 

He praised Trump for nominating U.S. Supreme Court Judge Neil Gorsuch and said the Department of Justice would defend free speech aggressively under Trump's leadership. The department is taking action to protect the First Amendment rights of college students and settled lawsuits filed against former President Barack Obama's "wrongful" contraception mandate, the former Alabama U.S. senator told the crowd. 

"We don’t waive our constitutional rights when we participate fully in public life and civic society," Sessions said. "At the Department of Justice, we are taking these fundamental principles seriously, and we are putting them into action. 

The attorney general's praise of his boss came a day after Trump suggested on Twitter again Wednesday that he wishes he had never offered the job to Sessions. Trump has repeatedly criticized Session for his decision to recuse himself from the Russia election probe, calling him “beleaguered,” and threatened to fire him last July.

Trump's message resonated with voters in 2016, "that he respected people of faith and he promised to protect them in the free exercise of their faith," Trump said.

"It is no secret that, in recent years, the cultural climate in American has become less hospitable to people of faith and to religious belief," he said. "Many Americans in recent years  have felt — understandably — that their freedom to practice their faith has been under attack."

"Since his election, President Trump has been an unwavering defender of religious liberty. He has promised that under a Trump Administration, “the federal government will never, ever penalize any person for their protected religious beliefs.

The Associated Press reported that Trump’s advisers and allies have an ongoing campaign to persuade the president not to fire Sessions but there may be a limit to how long the efforts will hold. 

Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani on Wednesday only offered assurances Trump would not fire Sessions during the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, due to the “distraction” it would cause.

“There’s no doubt he’s complained about him, there’s no doubt he has some grievances. I don’t know they’ve aired them out yet. He’s not going to fire him before this is over,” Giuliani told reporters Wednesday, according to the Associated Press. “Nor do I think he should.”

Detroit U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider introduced Sessions, saying Sessions is a defender of law enforcement and is a working hard to combat terrorism, quell the opioid epidemic and fight illegal immigration. 

“We promise to give you a better reception than you’ve received in the news media,” said Schneider, who was officially appointed less than a month ago.

cmacdonald@detroitnews.com

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