persecution complex? prosecution complex?
February 23, 2007 7:13 PM   Subscribe

The First Freedom Project --new from the Dept of Justice, announced at the Southern Baptist Convention along with a call for their help---specifically and only to protect the religious from discrimination against them. Many are not impressed: The administration has often ignored the importance of the no establishment principle by supporting attempts of governments to endorse a religious message, using tax dollars to fund pervasively religious organizations, allowing religious discrimination in hiring for federally funded projects, ... Legal strategies and actions from groups like the Alliance Defense Fund and ACLJ are now official DOJ policy, it appears. ...In his statement, Gonzales mentioned several cases litigated by ADF and its allies ...
posted by amberglow (56 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
and from the Tennessean: ... Gonzalez told reporters that he chose a meeting of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination because, “this is a group that’s very interested in religious freedom.”
The gathering is a “receptive audience that would appreciate,” his message, he said.

posted by amberglow at 7:18 PM on February 23, 2007

I just got an email on this today, from the First Freedom First project, whose name the DOJ basically stole for this.

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State is not pleased.

I plan to check it out myself. There are regional seminars put on by the DOJ to describe just what the hell they mean by all this. Maybe it's good. There's a lot of pandering to the majority on the DOJ website, though.
posted by gurple at 7:24 PM on February 23, 2007

Just to get specific about the majority-pandering -- the DOJ mentions the "Good News Club", the kind of thing they'd apparently like to see a lot more of, about a million times on this page

If you can't tell, this kind of thing is right up my alley. Nice post.
posted by gurple at 7:26 PM on February 23, 2007

from your Americans United link: ...The First Freedom Project has been run by Eric Treene, an attorney who was formerly employed at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a group that works to undermine the separation of church and state. ...
posted by amberglow at 7:27 PM on February 23, 2007

humonculus, the "Hein vs. FFRF" case you link to is super important. My own state of Washington's Attorney General filed an amicus brief siding with the Bush Administration on that one (i.e., taxpayers shouldn't have standing to sue for Establishment Clause violations). I wrote my AG a letter, but it didn't make me feel much better.
posted by gurple at 7:33 PM on February 23, 2007

This is one of the cases these kinds of groups have brought, in terms of education: University of California sued for discriminating against Christian courses--Some college-prep classes deemed “too religious”

Will we now see the DOJ--our government itself--bringing these cases instead?
posted by amberglow at 7:38 PM on February 23, 2007

Great post as always amberglow.
posted by nola at 7:47 PM on February 23, 2007

also from Americans United, about faith-based funding, which this DOJ thing certainly is, it seems: ... Citing a 1968 Supreme Court decision, the groups’ brief noted that history “vividly illustrates that one of the specific evils feared by those who drafted” the First Amendment “was that the taxing and spending power [of Congress] would be used to favor one religion over another or to support religion in general.” ...
posted by amberglow at 7:52 PM on February 23, 2007

Why do Christians still think Dick Cheney gives a fuck about them? And will they ever stop?

(Rhetorical questions.)
posted by bardic at 7:54 PM on February 23, 2007

Has the DOJ under Bush ever worked on behalf of anyone fighting against religious influence/discrimination? All the examples on that section of the site are them acting on the side of the religious.
posted by amberglow at 8:04 PM on February 23, 2007

You know, I was thinking the other day that what this country needs is more Baptists.
posted by UseyurBrain at 8:14 PM on February 23, 2007

Has the DOJ under Bush ever worked on behalf of anyone fighting against religious influence/discrimination?

Probably not in Utah.
posted by owhydididoit at 8:55 PM on February 23, 2007

I'm always tempted to post religion-related links I come across, but I'm afraid they'll get deleted with "lolxtians" as the deletion reason... Cheers to you for posting this, amberglow.
posted by amyms at 9:18 PM on February 23, 2007

Many of you have probably already figured out that the problem is that the SBC's idea of "religious freedom" means "freedom to be any kind of fundamentalist Christian you want to be."

These people are so radical that they staged a coup of their own seminary in Fort Worth and installed administration and faculty that were suitably, ahem, conservative.

And now these same people want Alberto "Geneva Conventions Are Quaint" Gonzales protecting their rights over mine. Good thing they think the Rapture is any day now.
posted by ilsa at 9:24 PM on February 23, 2007

I'm all for protecting the First Amendment rights of the religious. I am not all for the perversion of the First Amendment that this specific campaign will result in.
posted by Falconetti at 9:28 PM on February 23, 2007

I am not all for the perversion of the First Amendment that this specific campaign will result in.

Falconetti, that's why i asked about if they had ever taken the other side during this administration--bringing cases on behalf of those discriminated against by religious groups or orgs, or even filing those amicus things. Does anyone know? Is there any way to find out?
posted by amberglow at 9:42 PM on February 23, 2007

text of Gonzales' speech is here--...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. ...

Has that ever happened?
posted by amberglow at 9:50 PM on February 23, 2007

immediately before that quote is this: We have fought to maintain and make clear the crucial
distinction between improper government speech endorsing religion and constitutionally protected private speech endorsing religion.

Isn't he doing just that -- "improper government speech endorsing religion" -- with this whole thing?
posted by amberglow at 9:53 PM on February 23, 2007

after bushco finishes destroying the middle class, after the last good union job has been offshored, most of the southern baptists who voted for this administration will get their just deserts: corporate slavery.
posted by bruce at 10:01 PM on February 23, 2007

Baptists, in the desert? I can't possibly disagree. Sorry, that was a grammar attack, I'll actually comment on the topic now.

I thought there was a little thing about "the government isn't supposed to even be in the same room as religion" or somesuch. Is this trying to walk all over that?
posted by Cyclopsis Raptor at 10:17 PM on February 23, 2007

It's never been that, Cyclopsis--It used to be this, but now who knows: "Congress shall make no law … prohibiting the free exercise (of religion)" is called the free-exercise clause of the First Amendment. The free-exercise clause pertains to the right to freely exercise one’s religion. It states that the government shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
Although the text is absolute, the courts place some limits on the exercise of religion. For example, courts would not hold that the First Amendment protects human sacrifice even if some religion required it. The Supreme Court has interpreted this clause so that the freedom to believe is absolute, but the ability to act on those beliefs is not.
Questions of free exercise usually arise when a citizen’s civic obligation to comply with a law conflicts with that citizen’s religious beliefs or practices. If a law specifically singled out a specific religion or particular religious practice, under current Supreme Court rulings it would violate the First Amendment. Controversy arises when a law is generally applicable and religiously neutral but nevertheless has the “accidental” or “unintentional” effect of interfering with a particular religious practice or belief. ...

posted by amberglow at 10:30 PM on February 23, 2007

this is the other part of the 1st:

The first of the First Amendment's two religion clauses reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion ... .” Note that the clause is absolute. It allows no law. It is also noteworthy that the clause forbids more than the establishment of religion by the government. It forbids even laws respecting an establishment of religion. The establishment clause sets up a line of demarcation between the functions and operations of the institutions of religion and government in our society. It does so because the framers of the First Amendment recognized that when the roles of the government and religion are intertwined, the result too often has been bloodshed or oppression. ...
posted by amberglow at 10:32 PM on February 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

I'm just wondering about the part of the 1st Amendment that I bolded. I guess the DOJ is gonna get right on that. Shall I expect to find a "Free Speech Zone" within spitting distance of the next Bush or Cheney public appearance?
posted by brain cloud at 10:39 PM on February 23, 2007

I don't understand why this is controversial. The U.S. of A. has always been a de facto Protestant Christian hegemony (though they'll coopt Catholics, Jews and Mormons when that furthers their agenda) simply because most Americans are some kind of Protestant Christian. It's like the System naturally favors "Euro-Americans" because most Americans are White. That's democracy in action folks, the same kind of majority rule that's establishing a Twelver Shi'ite theocracy in al-`Iraq. What else could "Majority Rule" possibly mean? How else might we practice democracy and guard the common good without putting quantity over any given quality? LCD is freedom!

Sometimes, despite my my anarcho-communist convictions, sometimes I find myself agreeing with Ortega y Gasset.
posted by davy at 11:09 PM on February 23, 2007

In other news, AG Gonzales Terminates 8th U.S. Attorney.

Update to this thread.
posted by homunculus at 11:28 PM on February 23, 2007

From what I've seen the Bushies and their tendency to see the Constitution as being comprised only of Article II, I'm guessing that a lot of this will ultimately be done through the mechanism of executive orders, circumventing Congress entirely, if necessary.

After all, that quaint First Amendment does say "Congress shall make no law..." right? Don't say nothing about the Decid...I mean President.
posted by hwestiii at 6:16 AM on February 24, 2007

"In other news, AG Gonzales Terminates 8th U.S. Attorney."

Even the conservative newspaper in my western Michigan town is writing scathing editorials about these firings. The only saving grace is that in about 19 months the new president can fire all the ringers.
posted by UseyurBrain at 6:57 AM on February 24, 2007

davy: It's a democracy with a constitution that guarantees unalienable rights. In a democracy that didn't, it is conceivable that we could put someone to death with no more than a majority vote - the constitution guarantees we can't do that as it would violate the right to due process (among others).

Hence, the majority religion doesn't get to trump all the others when it begins to encroach on the rights guaranteed in the constitution, and the government doesn't get to ignore the constitution's clauses because a majority may like them to (without said majority actually working to amend the constitution first).

Sorry if the civics rant is misplaced, I just can't let that old "majority rules, too bad" saw go unchallenged.
posted by abulafa at 7:05 AM on February 24, 2007

Oh and thanks for the post amberglow. Beyond writing to an AG, the AG, and my reps, I suppose the best way to make any difference in this fight is to fund organizations like Americans United... mentioned above?

Anyone have thoughts on more local, personal action? (Maybe a topic for talk.)
posted by abulafa at 7:09 AM on February 24, 2007

Also, there's no little irony in the way the AG is handling this issue and they way they are dealing with journalists after the fallout from the Plame case and the domestic surveillance revelations.

The Constitution speaks of the freedom of religion and the freedom of the press in the same breath, but these guys couldn't address them more differently.
posted by hwestiii at 7:21 AM on February 24, 2007

The "Tiger Woods is God" versus "Jesus Is Lord" example is a false analogy, isn't it? Beyond that, it is simply pandering.

If I tell someone that "Tiger is God" (or to use an actual example from pop culture, "Clapton is God"), what I'm saying is little more than "Tiger Woods is an amazing golfer," because cultural awareness has informed my audience not only of who Woods is, but what he does and does well.

If I say that "Jesus Is Lord," unless I am doing so in an exemplary or sarcastic manner, then I am making a statement of belief. And because of the prosyletizing/witnessing tradition of Christianity, my statement of belief (when expressed to another) is my testimony, employed in an effort to convert others to my faith.

In other words, Tiger Woods is not the central savior-figure of any religion*, so there is no reason for someone to mistake "Tiger is God" for my testimony.

* -- Of course, the world is a big, wierd place, so I would be surprised if there wasn't at least one person out there with a Tiger Woods Shrine hidden is his or her closet.
posted by grabbingsand at 7:53 AM on February 24, 2007

That's democracy in action folks, the same kind of majority rule that's establishing a Twelver Shi'ite theocracy in al-`Iraq. What else could "Majority Rule" possibly mean?

One of the tenents of a civilized Democracy with "Majority Rule" is the obligation to protect the Minority.
posted by matty at 8:33 AM on February 24, 2007

(Psst: y'all check them Sarcasm Meters, okay?)
posted by davy at 11:45 AM on February 24, 2007

totally--it was sarcasm from davy : >

Anyone have thoughts on more local, personal action? (Maybe a topic for talk.)
One thing is to always vote--especially in local school board elections and local supervisors and stuff--the religious right has been trying to pack local and state boards--see Kansas with evolution and many many many other places.

grabbing, what DOJ might be doing is in conflict with "at will" employment in private companies, which i believe most of us have. The real issue is that the right has been trying to eliminate diversity training and anti-harrassment rules and companies who are friendly to those who are not Christian (like those who give domestic partner benefits--see Ford, and others, and the AFA's boycotts against Disney, Ford, and many many others.)
posted by amberglow at 12:27 PM on February 24, 2007

And in terms of work the real issue may be those people who are discriminating in the name of their religion like pharmacists and many others, and who then turn around and cry "discrimination!" when they're called out for it. I posted about the landscapers, and there are tons of pharmacists who won't prescribe birth control or day after or even hiv medicine.

This sets the stage for DOJ to be a principal player in officially assisting those people.
posted by amberglow at 12:30 PM on February 24, 2007

orgs like the ACLU fight both sides of these cases (and the groups i mentioned above don't), but this makes the DOJ (our government) a powerful and official force on only one side.
posted by amberglow at 12:36 PM on February 24, 2007

also, this is like the government placing themselves on the side of sexual harrassers and others like that, and really is them placing themselves on the side and working on behalf of those who create a hostile workplace in violation of company rules and regs. Workplace ministries and prayer groups and bosses who want their employees to pray or whatever....

... One model described by reporter Russell Shorto is found at the Riverview Community Bank, in Otsego, Minnesota, founded by evangelical Christians who are proud that, at their bank, “employees pray with customers and proselytize.” Though the owners quote the Civil Rights Act of 1964, chapter and verse, as though it were the Bible, claiming that they never discriminate in any employment decisions, employees are all evangelical Christians of one kind or another. The reporter wonders whether a Jew or Muslim, for example, would feel comfortable in such an environment, and he suspects that people who don't share the religious convictions of the bank's leaders would “self-select” away from employment there.
Even if we understand, though, and pause before we pass judgment on such efforts, we are leery of the overt activities of a single religion in an ostensibly secular workplace like a bank. I must admit my own discomfort with local businesses in our own community, which sport Christian symbols on their signs and stationery. These business people are surely within their right to the free expression of religion, which all Americans ought to cherish. And yet, we rightly ask whether the proliferation of secular business identification with Christianity will increase the incorrect perception that America is a Christian nation, a land where non-Christians are less than entirely welcome. ...

posted by amberglow at 12:50 PM on February 24, 2007

from ACLJ: Christian Rights in the Workplace-- Can I share the Gospel with co-workers at work?...Do I have to attend training if it violates my religious convictions? ...Are there any types of religious beliefs or behavior not protected by Title VII?
Generally, all sincerely held religious beliefs are protected by Title VII. ...

posted by amberglow at 12:58 PM on February 24, 2007

rudepundit's on it too:... Called "First Freedom" (with its own shiny website), it's a clearinghouse for Civil Rights division of the DOJ to commit watchdoggery on any secular entity that dares question the right of someone to worship GodJesusAllahWhoever in his or her own way. They've even released a report about how the DOJ has enforced the law under George Bush. If you search the document, you find not one instance of discrimination against atheists or the non-religious (indeed, the words "atheist" and "atheism" do not appear in the report); just bunches and bunches of cases where the government has used your tax dollars to defend one church or another. ...
posted by amberglow at 1:35 PM on February 24, 2007

The Constitution speaks of the freedom of religion and the freedom of the press in the same breath, but these guys couldn't address them more differently.

That is a misunderstanding of the Constitution and what press freedoms are encompassed. The Constitution has never been interpreted to give reporters the right to refuse to testify in order to protect their sources. See Brandenburg v. Hayes. The right to a free press looks to the freedom from prior restraint primarily. My personal view is aligned with J. Powell's concurrence in that case, which said there is no absolute right, but rather the presumption is that the reporter doesn't have to testify and disgorge their source. The prosecurot then has the burden of proving that the information he or she seeks is only available from the reporter. If that burden is met, then the reporter has the duty to testify. I think that adequately balances both interests.

You have to remember that there is also an important interest in making sure all the relevant and necessary facts come to light in a trial. Except in a few special cases, everyone can be compelled to testify if they have relevant and important information that is needed to ensure that a trial is full and fair. Having a trial that is conducted with all the evidence on view makes it more likely that jurors or the judge can fairly adjudicate a case and ensure that justice is served.

Alternatively, since the Constitution does not grant freedom of the press in the way you seem to be interpreting it, a statutory grant would also be a good option. Some sort of Shield law would enable people to balance the interests in the way that seems most reasonable. The ability of reporters to rely on confidential sources and the ability of confidential sources to feel they will be able to remain confidential is important and should be protected, but fair trials should not be sacrificed for that right.
posted by Falconetti at 1:59 PM on February 24, 2007

one current case among many many recent ones that now may see the DOJ's support: A federal judge in Boston has dismissed a suit by two families who wanted to stop a Massachusetts town and its public school system from teaching their children about gay marriage, court documents show....The families last year filed the suit asserting that the reading of a gay-themed book and handing out to elementary school students of other children's books that discussed homosexuality without first notifying parents was a violation of their religious rights. ...
posted by amberglow at 3:18 PM on February 24, 2007

related, on a Freedom from Religion case: ... If the administration wins this case, then there would be no way for citizens to try to stop public spending on religion, so long as it was paid for out of the general fund. In addition this would open the door to the congress wink-wink nod-nod appropriating money to the executive general fund to pay for religious spending. ...

Is this true? Does anyone know?
posted by amberglow at 3:51 PM on February 24, 2007

more on that Freedom from Religion case at the Supreme Court next week: ...The ACLJ is trying to close the courthouse doors to taxpayers who want to seek relief when the government forces them to subsidize religion. ...

So you have the DOJ focusing solely on the religious, and an attempt to prevent people hurt by govt funding of religion to actually go to court themselves for redress.
posted by amberglow at 4:38 PM on February 24, 2007

this is very related too: The American Civil Liberties Union today condemned the House of Representatives for adopting H.R. 2679, the "Public Expression of Religion Act of 2005" (PERA). The bill would bar the recovery of attorneys’ fees to citizens who win lawsuits asserting their fundamental constitutional and civil rights in cases brought under the First Amendment. ...
posted by amberglow at 4:48 PM on February 24, 2007

I think there's a new amendment in order: Congress shall not be a dick.
posted by tehloki at 6:45 PM on February 24, 2007

ilsa, with all this official govt stuff being installed, they don't need a candidate (esp if Bush puts 1 more on the Supreme Court--he's put the most conservative judges on the bench ever, and totally packed the Civil Rights Div of DOJ with people with no civil rights experience).
posted by amberglow at 8:34 PM on February 24, 2007

The Supreme Court was set to hear opening arguments this past Wednesday in a case brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The suit charges that conferences held in the White House to promote President Bush’s faith-based initiative were, in fact, Christian revival meetings.

I can attest to the fact.
I have worked closely with some of the Christian leaders targeted by the architects of Bush’s faith-based initiative, and I am convinced that this president still believes that atheists, Jews and Ted Haggard notwithstanding, America is still one nation under Jesus. ...

posted by amberglow at 3:33 PM on March 1, 2007

also from there: ...Bush’s 2007 budget delivers large cuts to, and in some cases outright elimination of, government services for children, the elderly, the disabled and the poor. Meanwhile, funding for faith-based social services and programs high on the right-wing evangelical agenda, such as abstinence education, has at worst been marginally cut. In many cases, it has not been cut at all. ...
posted by amberglow at 3:35 PM on March 1, 2007

NYT today on the Supreme Court--Clement is lawyer on behalf of the Administration: ... Justice Breyer persisted, asking about a law requiring the government to build churches “all over America” dedicated to one particular sect. “Nobody could challenge it?” he asked.

“There would not be taxpayer standing,” Mr. Clement replied. ...

posted by amberglow at 5:26 PM on March 1, 2007

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