WASHINGTON - Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales announced today the launch of the First Freedom Project, a program spear-headed by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division that builds on the Department’s extensive efforts to strengthen and preserve religious liberty throughout the nation.
“Throughout our history, nothing has defined us as a Nation more than our respect for religious freedom,” said Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. “It is not confined to the 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 First Freedom Project also builds on the Department’s extensive record of achievement and commits to even greater enforcement of religious rights for all Americans. Under the First Freedom Project, the Justice Department will:
*Create a Department-wide Religious Freedom Task Force, chaired by Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, which will review policies and cases to ensure that religious freedom is being protected.
*Initiate a program of public education to make certain that people know their rights, and to build relationships with religious, civil rights, and community leaders to ensure that religious liberty concerns are brought to our attention.
*Hold a series of regional training seminars for these and other leaders interested in religious liberty. The first will be in Kansas City, Mo., on Mar. 29, 2007, followed by seminars in Tampa, Fla., on April 25, 2007 and Seattle, Wash., on May 10, 2007. Other dates and locations will be announced in the coming months.
*Launch a new Web site, http://www.firstfreedom.gov, with information on the laws we enforce and how to file a complaint.
*Distribute informational literature to religious organizations, civil rights groups, and community leaders on how to file a complaint.
The Justice Department today also released its Report on Enforcement of Laws Protecting Religious Freedom: Fiscal Years 2001- 2006, which illustrates how the Justice Department has increased enforcement of protections against religious discrimination and other laws protecting religious freedom. The report details the Department’s efforts in stepping up enforcement of laws against discrimination in education, housing, lending and employment, and other laws protecting religious freedom including bias crime laws and laws protecting houses of worship from abusive zoning practices. A copy of the report is available on the new First Freedom Web site.