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Government launches program to protect Americans from religious discrimination February 21, 2007

Posted by C.A.R.D in Alberto Gonzales, Attorney General, Card, Citizens Against Racism and Discrimination, Discriminate, Discrimination, Gonzales, religious freedom, religious liberty, Southern Baptist Convention, The First Freedom Project, U.S. Attorney.

With the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention as his audience, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced the launch of the First Freedom Project, a Justice Department effort to fight religious discrimination.“Religious freedom is a fundamental part of our nation’s history and one of its core principles,” Gonzales told Executive Committee members Feb. 20.

The First Freedom Project will be spearheaded by the Justice Department’s civil-rights division and will build on the department’s efforts to strengthen and preserve religious liberty throughout the nation, according to Gonzales, who sought the meeting with SBC leaders.

“Throughout our history, nothing has defined us a nation more than our respect for religious freedom,” Gonzales said. “It is not confined to members of one church or the followers of one set of beliefs. Through this initiative, the Justice Department continues its vigorous efforts to enforce protections against religious discrimination.”

The attorney general stressed that religious liberty is “a universal right and applies to people of all faiths.”

Later, in response to a question, Gonzales told reporters he chose an audience of Southern Baptists to announce the government’s new effort because “this is a group very interested in the protection of religious freedom.” He noted the “timing worked out where this was a good venue to speak to a receptive audience.”

Baptists in America were early champions of religious liberty and influenced the development of the Constitution’s First Amendment, which guarantees religious liberty and other freedoms.

The First Freedom Project will initiate a program of public education to make certain that people know their rights, Gonzales said. “People do not understand fully what their rights are,” he explained.

The First Freedom Project will sponsor a series of regional training seminars for leaders interested in religious liberty. The first one will be March 29 in Kansas City, Mo., followed by seminars in Tampa, Fla., April 25 and Seattle, Wash., May 10. Other dates and locations will be announced later.

The First Freedom Project also has launched a web site, http://www.firstfreedom.gov, which will provide information on laws that are enforced and details on how to file a complaint.

Another initiative, called the First Freedoms Project but unrelated to Gonzales’ initiative, is a partnership between three Baptist organizations — the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Associated Baptist Press, and the Baptists Today newspaper — to emphasize the Christian commitment to First Amendment principles, particularly religious liberty and freedom of the press (www.firstfreedoms.com).

Prior to Gonzales’ remarks, the Justice Department also released its “Report on Enforcement of Laws Protecting Religious Freedom: Fiscal Years 2001-06.”

The 43-page booklet, which is available on the First Freedom website, illustrated how the Justice Department has increased the enforcement of laws against religious discrimination and protecting religious freedom.

For example, the report noted that religious discrimination cases in education increased from one case reviewed and no investigations between 1995-2000, during the Clinton administration, to 82 cases reviewed and 40 investigations during the past six years of the Bush administration.

The report summarizes the Justice Department’s accomplishments during the Bush administration in protecting religious liberty through the enforcement of civil-rights laws.

According to the report, the department has filed a lawsuit to protect the right of a Muslim student to wear a head scarf while attending public school and defended the right of religious groups to meet in public facilities on an equal basis with secular groups.

The report also noted that the department has defended the right of senior adults to pray, sing religious songs, and hold Bible studies at a community senior center.

“In each of those cases, we argued that citizens should not be forced to check their religion at the door,” Gonzales told Executive Committee members.

“But this is only the beginning,” Gonzales wrote in the introductory page of the report. “Preserving religious liberty requires an ongoing commitment to protecting this most basic freedom for people of all faiths.”

At the conclusion of his address, Gonzales asked the Executive Committee to help spread the word of what the Justice Department is doing to preserve religious liberty and to help educate Southern Baptists about religious-liberty laws.

CARD {Citizens Against Racism and Discrimination} Source: abpnews.com

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