The Lamp

Where truth can be shared.

Exorcizing Religious Freedom

Posted by thelamp on March 24, 2007

The Department of Justice has launched the First Freedom Project, a program designed to protect religious rights in America. CMC applauds the effort to reduce threats against the free exercise of religion.There are two religious-liberty provisions in the First Amendment: no establishment and free exercise. Establishment-clause battles over “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance or the Ten Commandments in a courthouse grab news headlines. However its the restriction on free exercise of faith that has the most impact on daily life for Americans who follow Christ, discrimination against religious expression in the workplace, schools and land use, for example.

The First Freedom Project includes a number of facets to ensure that this precious right, guaranteed by our laws and Constitution, is recognized and protected:

  • A commitment to continued expansion of enforcement of civil rights statutes protecting religious liberty.
  • Creation of a Department-wide Task Force on Religious Liberty, chaired by the Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division, to review DOJ policies impacting religious liberty, coordinate religious liberty cases, and improve outreach to stakeholder communities.
  • Initiation of a series of regional seminars to be held around the country to educate religious, civil rights, and community leaders, as well as attorneys, government officials and other interested citizens about the laws protecting religious freedom enforced by the Department of Justice and how to file complaints.
  • Increased outreach to religious organizations, civil rights organizations, and other groups and individuals concerned with religious liberty issues through meetings, speaking engagements, and distribution of informational literature.

When U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced the program, he also released a report titled, “Enforcement of Laws Protecting Religious Freedom: Fiscal Years 2001-2006.”

Click here to download the report.

“The right to religious freedom is a foundation of America,” President Bush said in the proclamation for last year’s national Religious Freedom Day. “Our Founding Fathers knew the importance of freedom of religion to a stable democracy, and our Constitution protects individuals’ rights to worship as they choose. We reject religious discrimination in every form, and we continue our efforts to oppose prejudice and to counter any infringements on religious freedom.”

The recently released DOJ report documents the Bush administration’s efforts to take religious discrimination seriously. Since establishing the first-ever special counsel for religious discrimination early in the administration, the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division has dramatically increased enforcement of federal statutes protecting religious rights.

In education, for example, the DOJ reviewed 82 cases and conducted 40 investigations from 2001 to 2006. This record clearly reflects heightened interest in religious freedom when compared with the years 1995-2000, when the DOJ reviewed one case and made no investigations.

If you face religious discrimination in America, it helps to have the DOJ on your side. Ask the Christian student in New Jersey who won the right to sing a religious song at the school talent show, or the Jewish congregation in Florida that won the right to rent worship space in its city’s commercial district.

Americans who care about protecting the free exercise of religion owe a debt of gratitude to these and similar efforts to uphold religious rights.



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