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January 19, 2018 3:44 pm

Trump Official Under Fire for Invoking Nazi Persecution of Jews in Religious Freedom Controversy

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Roger Severino, the director of the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services. Photo: Reuters TV.

A senior Trump administration appointee has been strongly criticized after he compared the moral distress experienced by medical professionals confronted with decisions contrary to their religious beliefs with the plight of the Jewish people under Nazi rule.

Announcing the launch of a new oversight entity within the Department of Health and Human Services that will legally shield doctors, nurses and other health care workers opposed to performing procedures like abortion and gender reassignment surgery, Roger Severino — the director of the department’s Office for Civil Rights — invoked the persecution of Jews under the Nazi regime in explaining why the religious beliefs of medical staff required extra protection.

Explaining that he had become “aware of the notion” of “conscience protection” when he saw a book on the Holocaust, Severino said on Thursday that he had been struck “one photograph in particular, which was an outline that looked like a footprint, and there was writing in Hebrew.”

“When I looked on the caption, it said it was a cutout of a shoe insole that the Nazis had forced Jews to wear on their shoes, so that every step they took, they will be violating their conscience,” Severino said at press conference announcing the department’s new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division. “I could see the common humanity of why if somebody’s forced to violate their conscience in every step they take, how it’s an attack, really, on their human dignity.”

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In a statement responding to Severino’s remarks, the Anti-Defamation League denounced his appropriation of the Holocaust as “deeply offensive.”

Arguing that the the new religious freedom division will exacerbate existing discrimination against women and sexual minorities, the ADL said that Severino’s “moral equivalence between healthcare professionals who may object to providing critically needed services based on their own religion and the systemic murder of Jews by the Nazis is beyond the pale.”

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