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DOJ unveils religious discrimination education initiative

[JURIST] US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales unveiled [transcript; press release] the First Freedom Project (FFP) [official website] Tuesday afternoon, a new Department of Justice initiative aimed at stricter enforcement of laws against religious discrimination and educating the public about their rights in this area. The DOJ will hold training seminars [DOJ materials] across the US in conjunction with the program, and the FFP website includes instructions on how to file a religious discrimination complaint with the DOJ [DOJ materials]. The program was prompted by a DOJ report [text], also released Tuesday, that describes how the DOJ's Civil Rights Division [official website] has "dramatically increased enforcement" of religious discrimination laws between 2001 and 2006.

Gonzales made the following remarks during a Wednesday meeting of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention [church website]:

The Department of Justice has actively pursued cases involving religion not just in access to education and public facilities, but in equal access to housing, lending, and employment as well. Over the past six years, we have had many successes. We've launched scores of investigations involving religious discrimination in education and housing, a sharp and marked increase in the Justice Department's enforcement of these important federal protections. We have fought to maintain and make clear the crucial distinction between improper government speech endorsing religion and constitutionally protected private speech endorsing religion.

Why should it be permissible for an employee standing around the water cooler to declare that 'Tiger Woods is God,' but a firing offense for him to say 'Jesus is Lord'? These are the kinds of contradictions we are trying to address...

As part of our ongoing efforts to strengthen and preserve religious liberty in this country, I am unveiling today a new initiative: the First Freedom Project. Under this program, the Department will build on our extensive record of achievement in this area and commit to even greater enforcement of religious rights for all Americans.
AP has more.

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