First freedom fraud: Bush administration's religious liberty project draws fire from civil liberties and civil rights leaders.
U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales For the New York Yankees infielder, see .
Alberto Gonzales (born August 4 1955) is an American jurist who served as the 80th Attorney General of the United States. Gonzales was appointed to the post in February 2005 by President George W. Bush. sounded an earnest note when championing religious freedom with a friendly audience in Nashville, Tenn.
On Feb. 20, Gonzales unveiled a "First Freedom Project" before a Southern Baptist Convention Noun 1. Southern Baptist Convention - an association of Southern Baptists
association - a formal organization of people or groups of people; "he joined the Modern Language Association"
Southern Baptist - a member of the Southern Baptist Convention executive committee meeting as an aggressive effort by the Bush administration to ensure religious liberties for all Americans.
"Nothing," said Gonzales, "defines us more as a nation--and differentiates us more from the extremists who are our enemies--than our respect for religious freedom.... So I would like to talk with you today about what the Department of Justice has done to protect religious freedom and religious liberty, and what we will be doing in the future."
But Gonzales' claims that the Department of Justice (DOJ (Department Of Justice) The legal arm of the U.S. government that represents the public interest of the United States. It is headed by the Attorney General. ) is dedicated to protecting religious freedom ring hollow when looked at in context of the administration's record on church-state issues.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State Americans United for Separation of Church and State (Americans United or AU for short) is a religious freedom advocacy group in the United States which promotes the separation of church and state, a legal doctrine seen by the AU as being enshrined in the Establishment , as well as other public interest groups, noted that the Bush administration, in reality, has proved a stubborn backer of the Religious Right agenda. Regardless of its claims to the contrary, the DOJ has shown more concern for dismantling the wall of separation between church and state than protecting the First Amendment.
"Expecting the Bush administration to defend religious liberty is a little like asking Col. Sanders to babysit your pet chicken," suggested Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn Reverend Barry W. Lynn (born 1948 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania) has been the Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State since 1992. . "This administration has repeatedly worked to destroy true religious freedom by merging church and state."
The Rev. Welton Gaddy, head of the Interfaith Alliance, agreed, calling the Justice Department's religion initiative "hypocritical."
"No administration in our history," said Gaddy, "has trampled the First Amendment more than the Bush administration,'
As a part of the DOJ initiative, Gonzales announced plans to create a department-wide task force on religious liberty law enforcement, hold a series of regional training seminars, launch a new Web site (www.firstfreedom.gov) and distribute informational literature to religious and other groups about filing religious liberty complaints.
Gonzales also released a "Report on Enforcement of Laws Protecting Religious Freedom." The 43-page document, according to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.
2. In keeping with: according to instructions.
3. its critics, reveals the administration's cramped views.
For example, the DOJ report notes that federal law prohibits both public and private employers from discriminating against employees based on their religious beliefs.
During his speech before the Baptist leaders, Gonzales pointed out that his department is "charged under the Civil Rights Act to protect against discrimination in public and private employment."
Gonzales continued, "Included in this, of course, is the requirement that employers make an effort to accommodate the religious practices of their employees. And it also embraces the premise that people deserve to be hired or not hired based on their qualifications, not on their faith."
The DOJ report, however, trumpets the Civil Rights Division's defense of the Salvation Army's supposed right to take taxpayers' money to run public social services social services
welfare services provided by local authorities or a state agency for people with particular social needs
social services npl → servicios mpl sociales and still fire staff people who do not agree with its fundamentalist dogma.
In 2004, several former employees of the Salvation Army's Social Service for Children division sued the religious organization charging that they were forced out of their publicly funded social service jobs after they disagreed with the organization's religious policies, including requirements to divulge their faith. The lawsuit argued that the Salvation Army's employment practice created a religiously hostile environment See: operational environment. for many employees and resulted in the unlawful firings of several professional employees.
The DOJ jumped right into the action, on the side of the Salvation Army's alleged right to discriminate. The department filed a brief in Lown v. Salvation Army Salvation Army, Protestant denomination and international nonsectarian Christian organization for evangelical and philanthropic work. Organization and Beliefs
The Salvation Army has established branches in 100 countries throughout the world. with the federal court arguing that the Army should be allowed to "preserve its character and identity as a religious organization through its personnel practices." The Los Angeles Times Los Angeles Times
Morning daily newspaper. Established in 1881, it was purchased and incorporated in 1884 by Harrison Gray Otis (1837–1917) under The Times-Mirror Co. (the hyphen was later dropped from the name). reported that the Justice Department dismissed the former employees' discrimination claims against the Salvation Army as "irrelevant."
Lynn noted the apparent discrepancy in this action and the DOJ's claim to oppose discrimination.
"Thanks to the Justice Department, the Salvation Army could literally place newspaper ads reading, 'Help Wanted for Government-Funded Jobs: No Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Liberal Christians, Atheists Or Gays Need Apply,' and this would be perfectly acceptable to Gonzales," said Lynn. "This is a perverse way of supposedly defending our religious freedom rights."
In his Nashville address, Gonzales praised the "good works" of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC (1) (SBC Communications Inc., San Antonio, TX, www.sbc.com) A large, national telecommunications company that grew from a multitude of local and regional companies, including Southwestern Bell, Pacific Bell and Nevada Bell, into a single, unified brand by 2002. ) and said it was "a pleasure for me to be here with you, among men and women of faith, who are guided by Scripture, as it says: 'Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.'"
He also asked the SBC leaders to help the Justice Department "spread the word" about the First Freedom Project.
Gonzales introduced the SBC audience to Eric Treene, an attorney who was named DOJ Special Counsel for Religious Discrimination in 2002. Gonzales said Treene is the point person for the First Freedom Project.
Before joining the administration, Treene was a lead attorney for the Becket beck·et
A device, such as a looped rope, hook and eye, strap, or grommet, used to hold or fasten loose ropes, spars, or oars in position.
Noun 1. Fund, a right-wing legal outfit that seeks to undercut church-state separation.
Gonzales and the department's report attempt to play up the instances where minority faiths were defended, such as the situation involving a Muslim student who was suspended from an Oklahoma pubic school for refusing to remove her headscarf. But critics say most of the DOJ's work has come on behalf of the majority faith.
In a 2005 interview with National Public Radio (NPR NPR
In currencies, this is the abbreviation for the Nepal Rupee.
The currency market, also known as the Foreign Exchange market, is the largest financial market in the world, with a daily average volume of over US $1 trillion. ), Lynn said that the religious garb case was not representative of those Treene was pursuing.
"The great majority of cases do not involve Muslims or Hindus or Zoroastrians or Scientologists," Lynn said in the NPR segment on Treene's endeavors. "They involve fundamentalist Christians trying to promote a radical agenda, now with the backing--and taxpayer-funded backing--of the Department of Justice."
More illustrative of the department's work in the area of religious liberty are the cases where Christians are complaining of religious discrimination. Although the DOJ's Civil Rights Division is likely best remembered for its work in combating racial segregation Noun 1. racial segregation - segregation by race
petty apartheid - racial segregation enforced primarily in public transportation and hotels and restaurants and other public places late last century, it now appears increasingly interested in far less weighty matters.
For example, the report notes that the department intervened in a New Jersey dispute over an elementary school elementary school: see school. student's request to sing a Christian song at an after-school talent show, demanded that a student Christian club at a Florida community college be allowed to screen Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" on campus and insisted that a Massachusetts public school allow students to distribute candy canes wrapped with Christian religious messages.
All of these actions occurred, critics note, while the administration is struggling with saving a failing War in Iraq and a floundering war against terrorism.
Another incident that riled rile
tr.v. riled, ril·ing, riles
1. To stir to anger. See Synonyms at annoy.
2. To stir up (liquid); roil.
[Variant of roil.]
Adj. 1. Treene's unit occurred at Texas Tech University where a biology professor based recommendations for medical school partly on students' understanding and acceptance of evolution.
A fundamentalist student objected, and the Civil Rights Division opened an investigation. The professor was forced to promise only to ask students to explain evolution.
And for all the Civil Rights Division's talk of concern over protecting religious groups from discrimination, the department last year asked the U.S. Supreme Court to allow the government to prosecute a small religious group in New Mexico New Mexico, state in the SW United States. At its northwestern corner are the so-called Four Corners, where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah meet at right angles; New Mexico is also bordered by Oklahoma (NE), Texas (E, S), and Mexico (S). that uses a hallucinogenic hal·lu·ci·no·gen
A substance that induces hallucination.
[hallucin(ation) + -gen.]
hal·lu tea in its services.
The high court turned away the administration's arguments, siding with the religious group's free exercise in Gonzales v. 0 Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao Do Vegetal vegetal /veg·e·tal/ (vej´e-t'l) vegetative (defs. 1, 2, and 3).
1. Of, relating to, or characteristic of plants.
Under Treene's leadership, the religious unit of the Civil Rights Division has also promoted the use of tax dollars to pay for religious schooling. The department weighed in on Florida's ongoing battle over a statewide school voucher A school voucher, also called an education voucher, is a certificate by which parents are given the ability to pay for the education of their children at a school of their choice, rather than the public school (UK state school) to which they were assigned. program.
An administration friend-of-the-court brief in Holmes v. Bush urged the Florida Supreme Court to uphold public funding Public funding is money given from tax revenue or other governmental sources to an individual, organization, or entity. See also
A broad range of civil rights, civil liberties and religious leaders have questioned the Bush administration initiative.
The Rev. Bob Edgar, head of the National Council of the Churches of Christ National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America, cooperative agency of 35 Protestant, Orthodox, and Anglican denominations. Formed in 1950, with headquarters in New York City, the National Council of Churches is the chief instrument of the , commended the DOJ's interest in religious liberty, but expressed concern over Gonzales' decision to promote the event only with the Southern Baptist Convention.
Edgar found it "unsettling un·set·tle
v. un·set·tled, un·set·tling, un·set·tles
1. To displace from a settled condition; disrupt.
2. To make uneasy; disturb.
v.intr. that only one single denomination, representing a fraction of the rich diversity of religious life of America, was selected to receive the attorney general's personal presentation."
"No group enjoys religious freedom," he said, "if any group is denied equal treatment under the law or the appearance of such equality."
When Gonzales announced the First Freedom Project, public interest groups also raised concerns that the Civil Rights Division was straying from its longtime work of ending racial discrimination.
"There is still a big problem with racial discrimination issues, gender discrimination issues, and there is a belief that the resources that should normally be used to look at those kinds of issues are being diverted elsewhere," Hilary Shelton, the Washington director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), organization composed mainly of American blacks, but with many white members, whose goal is the end of racial discrimination and segregation. , told Forward, the prominent Jewish daily.
Others have made similar points in the past.
In 2005, Marc Stern, co-director of the Commission on Law and Social Action of the American Jewish Congress
The American Jewish Congress describes itself as an association of Jewish Americans organized to defend Jewish interests at home and abroad through public policy advocacy, using diplomacy, , told the Los Angeles Times that he did not see the need for the department's stepped-up efforts.
"This is not the equivalent of the Southern resistance to the black vote that you need to have the Justice Department pursuing it," Stern told the newspaper. "The litigation An action brought in court to enforce a particular right. The act or process of bringing a lawsuit in and of itself; a judicial contest; any dispute.
When a person begins a civil lawsuit, the person enters into a process called litigation. [in church-state areas] goes very nicely without the United States government intervening."
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), head of the Senate Judiciary Committee The U.S. Senate established the Committee on the Judiciary on December 10, 1816, as one of the original 11 standing committees. It is also one of the most powerful committees in Congress; among its wide range of jurisdictions is investigation of federal judicial nominees and oversight of , told Forward that his committee plans to monitor the DOJ's actions.
"Sadly, in recent years, I have grown more concerned about the division's abysmal record of enforcing core civil rights protections for minorities," said Leahy. "We have asked the attorney general and assistant attorney general for civil rights questions about the Department's enforcement of these laws, but have yet to receive the satisfactory answers we need to conduct our constitutionally mandated oversight role."
Aaron Schuham, Americans United's director of legislative affairs, says AU is urging senators to engage in aggressive oversight of the DOJ's handling of religious liberty cases.
In contrast to the concerns expressed by civil rights and civil liberties advocates, Religious Right leaders were enthusiastic.
The Religion News Service reported that the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations applauded the move, and the Family Research Council, the Alliance Defense Fund The Alliance Defense Fund ("ADF") is a conservative Christian non-profit organization with the stated goal of "defending the right to hear and speak the Truth through strategy, training, funding, and litigation. and other powerful Religious Right groups voiced strong support for the Gonzales program.
Richard Land, head of the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, lauded Gonzales' project, saying that, "When individuals find themselves in a confrontation concerning their free exercise rights, it helps to have the attorney general and the Department of Justice on your side."
Gonzales gave an exclusive interview to TV preacher Pat Robertson's "700 Club" to talk about the project.
Although Robertson questioned the administration's support for Muslims' religious liberty rights, he praised Gonzales. "I think he's an excellent attorney general, Robertson said. "I think he's hewing Hewing is a method of cutting wood.
One can hew wood by standing a log across two other smaller logs, and stabilizing it somehow, by notching the support logs, or using a 'dog' (a long bar of iron with a hook tooth on either end that jams into the logs and prevents movement). a conservative line, and he's representing the president very well."
The reaction was telling to administration critics.
"Religious liberty is for everyone," AU's Lynn said, "but it seems clear this new initiative has more to do with keeping the administration's Religious Right allies happy than advancing a great constitutional principle."