by Erin Roach/TN : Feb 23, 2007 : BPNews
“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.”
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, on February 20, that the Department of Justice is enacting a program called the First Freedom Project that would increase education about religious discrimination through training seminars held throughout the country over the next few months.
Gonzales said he is charged by the president with “protecting and preserving not only the safety and security of all Americans, but also their rights, liberties and freedoms.” Said the Attorney General: “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.”
“One of our most cherished freedoms, one we’ve sacrificed greatly to defend, is our religious liberty,” he noted. “Nothing defines us more as a nation and differentiates us more from the extremists who are our enemies than our respect for religious freedom. Our great country was founded on these principles, and many of us today believe it continues to thrive because of, not despite, them.”
According to a report in Baptist Press News, the Department of Justice released a “Report on Enforcement of Laws Protecting Religious Freedom: Fiscal Years 2001-2006, which describes the importance of religious freedom historically in America and the role assigned to the justice department. The report also summarizes the department’s accomplishments during the Bush administration to protect religious liberty through the enforcement of civil rights laws.”
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, is quoted as applauding Gonzales’ action, saying, “This initiative is needed and should make a real difference. When individuals find themselves in a confrontation concerning their free exercise rights, it helps to have the attorney general and the Department of Justice on your side.”
In conclusion, Gonzales said: “In the First Amendment to the Constitution, at the top of the Bill of Rights, the founders declared that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’ Before free speech, before freedom of the press, before all of these other crucial rights, we put freedom of religion. This area of law has not always been given sufficient attention by the federal government, but from its earliest days this administration has worked to increase enforcement of religious freedom laws, including those against religious discrimination,” Gonzales added. “I am very proud of the report we’re releasing today, because it describes a legacy of protection unequaled since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”