Perdue issues policy on USDA ‘religious liberty, freedom of speech’

The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Tuesday affirmed the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “renewed dedication to religious liberty and freedom of speech,” USDA said in a news release.

In a policy statement released to all USDA employees, Perdue said, “Today, I want to reestablish this department’s commitment to safeguarding every American’s First Amendment rights, particularly the right to free speech and the right to religious free exercise. USDA is committed to protecting both.”

In a statement that a news release said was “highlighting the need for a climate of mutual respect and tolerance,” Perdue added, “I expect each and every USDA employee to uphold their fellow Americans’ First Amendment freedoms. Whether we are inspecting private businesses for compliance with food safety laws or protecting our public lands for recreation, cultivation, and preservation, we must set the example of our nation’s highest ideals. These are lessons we learned as children – that we should be kind to others and treat them with respect. Doing so is not optional, and it is not discretionary.”

USDA said the “policy memo comes on the heels of President Donald J. Trump issuing the executive order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty last week.”

According to a White House press pool report, Perdue was present when Trump signed the executive order on free speech and religion. It was unclear Tuesday evening just what Perdue was trying to address at USDA and what impact it would have on the department.

A former USDA lawyer told The Hagstrom Report, “I’m not sure what he’s after with it. I know there were some issues in the past about religious exemptions to food safety rules. Possible school lunch stuff. Not really sure. Could also just be a feel-good statement that doesn’t mean much.”

Trump’s order was not particularly well received by either the left or the right, The Washington Post reported last week.