Uses community outreach, education to counter religious discrimination
The Department of Justice has launched a program to educate the public about laws protecting religious freedom and to build relationships with religious, civil rights and community leaders to ensure religious liberty concerns are brought to the department's attention.
A key person in this effort, called the First Freedom Project, is Eric Treene, the special counsel for religious discrimination in the department's Civil Rights Division. He was hired in 2002 to coordinate all of Justice's efforts in combating religious discrimination and assure adequate attention was paid to this area.
In an interview with USINFO March 9, Treene said that even though the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division is charged with protecting the right of individuals to be free from discrimination and hate crimes on the basis of race, sex, religion or national origin, "there had not been any concerted, focused effort to look for and bring religious discrimination cases" to light....
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, only exacerbated the problem, according to Treene. "After 9/11 we saw an increase in hate crimes against Muslims and people perceived to be Muslim, as well as a doubling of complaints of discrimination against Muslims in employment," he said.
Treene said U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' meetings with groups and leaders of the Muslim-American community provided the impetus for the First Freedom Project. The groups told Gonzales in January that they were pleased with the agency's record in this area, "but they wanted us to publicize it more generally" -- for the education of the person on the street and for non-Muslim audiences -- to emphasize the importance and universal nature of religious liberty and the importance of protecting the rights of all persons, including Muslim Americans. [Link]
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