The Justice Department announced the launch of “Combating Religious Discrimination Today,” a new interagency community engagement initiative designed to promote religious freedom, challenge religious discrimination and enhance enforcement of religion-based hate crimes. The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, in partnership with other federal agencies, will host a series of community roundtables across the country that focus on protecting people and places of worship from religion-based hate crimes; combating religious discrimination, including bullying, in education and employment; and addressing unlawful barriers that interfere with the construction of places of worship.
The inaugural roundtable, which is taking place today in Newark, New Jersey, will focus on addressing bullying and religious discrimination in schools. It will examine how students encounter bullying and harassment based on their actual or perceived religion, as well as discrimination based on religious clothing, holidays and expression.
Subsequent roundtables will focus on a variety of related topics, including a discussion in Dallas that will center on preventing and prosecuting religion-based hate crimes targeting individuals and houses of worship; a meeting in Birmingham, Alabama, that will examine religious discrimination in employment; and a convening in Detroit that will address discrimination by local zoning officials against congregants seeking to build places of worship. The final roundtable will also concentrate on bullying and religious discrimination in schools and will take place in Palo Alto, California.
“Hate-motivated violence, harassment and discrimination violate America’s laws and threaten our founding vision of a free and tolerant society that welcomes people from every creed and walk of life,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division. “Robust community engagement and meaningful dialogue can help our country fulfill its promise of religious freedom, and we look forward to tackling this challenging work with creative solutions in the months ahead.”
Agencies participating in the new initiative include the Departments of Education, Homeland Security (DHS) and Labor (DOL); the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC); and within the Justice Department, the Civil Rights Division, FBI, Office of Justice Programs, Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys and Community Relations Service. Agency officials will facilitate the roundtable discussions to help identify key priorities and lead robust dialogue with community members and civil rights advocates.
“We are eager to continue partnering with our federal colleagues to address bias and discrimination in our nation’s schools, and to continue our strong enforcement of federal civil rights laws to ensure that all students can learn in safe school environments,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education.
“Since DHS was established, we have worked closely with communities across the country to combat intolerance and ensure safety at houses of worship,” said Officer Megan H. Mack of the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. “Ensuring the protection of uniquely American rights and liberties is a fundamental part of DHS’s mission to build safe and resilient communities. We look forward to expanding our already extensive engagement with communities by working closely with our federal partners on this effort.”
“A diverse and inclusive workplace reflects the strength and richness of America and its history,” said Director Patricia Shiu of the DOL Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. “Built by immigrants from every corner of the world, our nation’s greatness must not be diminished by unlawful religious discrimination. The Department of Labor welcomes the opportunity to collaborate with our federal partners on this important issue.”
“Our nation was founded on the principles of freedom and equality,” said Jenny R. Yang, EEOC Chair. “Working with our federal and community partners enables EEOC to better understand and address religious discrimination in the workplace, and to inform affected communities of protections under federal law.”
The new initiative supplements the department’s long-standing criminal and civil enforcement efforts to prevent religious discrimination and religion-motivated hate crimes. Since the 9/11 terrorists attacks, the department has investigated more than 1,000 incidents involving acts of violence, threats, assaults, vandalism and arson targeting diverse religious and ethnic groups, prosecuting dozens of these cases to the fullest extent of the law. The Civil Rights Division, often in close partnership with other federal agencies, also utilizes civil enforcement to combat religious discrimination and protect religious freedom. This includes preventing religious discrimination in education, through Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and in employment, through Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In addition, the division enforces the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which protects individuals, houses of worship and other religious institutions from discrimination in zoning and landmarking laws. For more information about the new initiative, please email CombatingReligiousDiscrimination@usdoj.gov. Additionally, EEOC is posting a ‘What You Should Know’ document today on its homepage, www.eeoc.gov, compiling EEOC’s resources regarding religious and national origin-based discrimination.