Tuesday, March 08, 2005

the evanglical takeover of the DOJ

Can you Imagine the Department of Justice's famed Civil Rights Division filing a brief in federal court Support the Right of an employer (using federal funds no less) to discriminate against someone based on their religion? Thanks to a great piece of reporting from the LA times, you have to imagine no more

The Salvation Army was accused in a lawsuit of imposing a new religious litmus test on employees hired with millions of dollars in public funds. When employees complained that they were being required to embrace Jesus Christ to keep their jobs, the Justice Department's civil rights division took the side of the Salvation Army. calling the employee suit an affront to "the federal statutory and constitutional rights of religious employers to define their character and maintain their religious integrity." The department said the discrimination claims were "irrelevant."

This "new and improved " civil rights logic is courtesy of a 3 ½ year old office created by Ashcroft and bush as payback for their evangelical supporters:

The Justice Department's religious-rights unit, established three years ago, has launched a quiet but ambitious effort aimed at rectifying what the Bush administration views as years of illegal discrimination against religious groups and their followers.

Because, as we all know if there is one group that needs special protection from invidious societal discrimination, its those poor, set upon Relgious types. I mean they only make up 80% of the population So its easy to see why the deck is always stacked against them. Especially those poor Christians whose number have dwindled to a mere 76.4% of the populace.

No Mr. Winston, the civil rights department has Always supported the rights of the majority to discriminate against the minority.

This is a huge encroachement by the religious right. For the first time ever, a branch of the DOJ is taking its marching orders from the Mullahs of the radical right, using the full weight and power of the federal government's lawyers as a club to bash any potential opponents to the "Religious" takeover of American society

Eric Treene, the religious-discrimination special counsel, is the former litigation director of a nonprofit group, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The group has been active in suing schools and local governments on behalf of religious groups.
A former senior Justice official describes him as widely influential, bird-dogging cases he thinks the department should throw its weight behind and reaching out to religious groups for bias cases he believes the department should investigate.

A number of cases the department has taken on serve specific goals of conservative religious organizations, a key political constituency of the Bush administration.

Their caseload reads like a transcripts from a nightly "focus on the family" or 700 Club broadcast:

-In three separate lawsuits, the department has filed briefs supporting the Child Evangelism Fellowship. The Christian group has led a national movement to establish after-school Good News Clubs in public elementary schools around the country in which children learn Bible stories and pray, among other activities.

-In December, a Justice Department lawyer launched a probe of an elementary school in Plano, Texas, that had stopped a fourth-grader from handing out candy canes with a religious message at school-sponsored holiday parties

-The religious unit has conducted at least six bias investigations triggered by complaints from a group of Christian lawyers in Texas known as the Liberty Legal Institute.


And its not just about demolishing the Separation Clause in public schools. They also aren't above a little side action to try to take down the occasional heretic or unbeliever as well:

Based on another complaint, the department investigated a biology professor at Texas Tech University two years ago who would not write letters of recommendation for students unless they affirmed a belief in the theory of evolution.
The professor, Michael Dini, said he was seeking to ensure that his students understood "the central, unifying principle of biology." He agreed to modify his policy under pressure from the Justice Department, requiring that students be able to explain the theory of evolution rather than actually believe in it.

And now with a little bullying under their belt, and public outcry yet; they have trained their sights on a direct assault on the oldest and clearest part of the Separation Clause:

No direct government support for religious organizations.

the Salvation Army has become the perfect test case:

The Salvation Army case is the boldest initiative in the Justice Department's recent emphasis on religious rights. And the stakes go well beyond the old-line Christian charitable organization.
The department's position in the case -- that religious groups should be able to hire or fire people based on their religious views, even when administering publicly funded programs -- is a cornerstone of President Bush's faith-based initiative. The initiative is channeling hundreds of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to churches and other religious groups to deliver social services.

Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 preserves the right of religious organizations to discriminate in hiring, it does not address the question of whether that applies to groups that accept public funds. That issue has not been legally resolved.

This is not the case of the local pastor of a church not wanting to hire a satan-worshipper as its groundskeeper. This is about a large and publicly funded agency wanting legal cover to carry out an evangelical agenda. Despite its name, until recently, the Salvation Army, has had little to do with religion, acting mainly as a private social service agency, which administered millions in taxpayer dollars:

In New York, the Salvation Army apparently had long operated without such entanglements, despite a history steeped in religious tradition. The international organization has provided social services to New Yorkers for decades. Its current contracts total about $50 million from the city and state of New York to provide foster care, HIV counseling and other services.

Then 2003 the Ameriban apparently seized control of the Charity and the Inquisition began:

In 2003, according to a lawsuit filed by more than a dozen workers in its Social Services for Children division, the Salvation Army began requiring employees to divulge information about their faiths, including the churches they attended and their ministers.
They were also called on to embrace a new mission statement -- included in job postings and job descriptions -- that declared the top goal of the social welfare operation is "to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in his name without discrimination." The previous mission statement was "to empower each person who enters our doors to live with dignity and hope," and contained no religious references.
Protections against discriminatory employment practices were excised from the employee handbook, and an effort was made to compile a list of homosexual employees, according to the suit.

Having actual consciences, as well as some grasp of the 1st Amendment, some Salvation Army employees stood up and complained

employees said the new policies would inevitably infuse religion into the services the welfare program had long provided -- notably in areas such as abortion counseling and HIV prevention -- that would conflict with their ethical duties as social workers to furnish proper care.
And because in many cases children and families are required by law to participate in the city-funded programs, they assert that would lead to precisely the sort of government-coerced religion that the Constitution prohibits.
The proposals touched off a wrenching debate among some of the organization's most devout employees. The longtime executive director of the social services program, a Lutheran minister, was ousted after voicing objections to the plans, according to the employee complaint.

And although this is about as clear a case of religious discrimination as is available, when the DOJ intervened, they stabbed the employees in the back:

The Justice Department weighed in last August, calling the employee suit an affront to "the federal statutory and constitutional rights of religious employers to define their character and maintain their religious integrity." The department said the discrimination claims were "irrelevant."

The Bush administration's full frontal assault on nearly every cherished American Ideal creates so many obvious targets for outrage; (the War in Iraq, Torture, Destroying the Geneva Convention, Dismantling social Security) its easy to miss the more stealthy, attacks such as this one. But this attack may prove to do more damage to our society than all the rest.

We will leave Iraq, eventually. Someday the detainees will be released, and those responsible exposed and maybe even tried. And sooner or later a democratic Congress will be able to undo the worst outrages of the Long Night of Republican control.

But Legal precedents linger long after their authors are meat for the worms. Through the principle of stare decisis, a case settled 150 years ago can decide on filed 10 minutes ago. These cases cannot be allowed to go unchecked. A favorable ruling could fundamentally alter the basic understanding of civil liberties for years to come, and allow the Ameriban to use federal taxpayer dollars to continue its assault on Secular Society as a whole. A line has to be drawn in the sand somewhere. Not allowing the DOJ to pervert the proud history and tradition of its civil rights office, seems as good a place to start as any.


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