Flash: Justice Department Defends First Amendment Rights
Ever since last October's special series titled "In God's Name," the New York Times has increased its reporting on what it sees as the excessive entanglement of government and religion. The first article in that series complained, for example, that a retirement home near the University of Notre Dame for aging Catholic priests (who, let us be clear, worked for a pittance and never built up equity in a home) receives property-tax breaks that an architecturally similar retirement complex across town doesn't.
Well, the Times is back today, with an article complaining that the Justice Department defends the free exercise of religion too much - and doesn't pursue as many race-related cases as it did in the past.
The increase in the Justice Department's attention to religious-freedom cases is hardly news. On February 20, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez gave a widely reported speech to the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, in which he "unveil[ed] a new Department of Justice initiative aimed at educating Americans about their religious liberties and to ask for the Southern Baptist Convention's help in identifying and reporting abuses of those liberties." (See the Baptist Press account here.)
The same day, Justice released a "Report on Enforcement of Laws Protecting Religious Freedom: Fiscal Years 2001-2006." Clearly, the Justice Department was seeking publicity for its new focus on religious freedom cases.
Nevertheless, the Times manages to completely avoid references to the Justice Department's report and offer only oblique references to speeches by the AG. The paper appears to pretend that it is digging up buried information.
The article's main complaints seem to be that:
* under the Bush Administration, Justice is pursuing fewer race-related and hate-crime cases. (The article offers no quantifiable evidence.)
* new entry-level hires at Justice are increasingly coming from faith-based law schools like Ave Maria and Regent. (An accompanying chart, however, shows more hires of Harvard Law grads in the last three years than there were in the preceding three years. Indeed, of the "liberal" law schools on the chart, only Cal Berkely seems to be suffering.)
* vigorously enforcing existing legislation that protects churches against zoning discrimination.
Efforts to combat sex-trafficking also come in for criticism because it is "a favored issue of the religious right." Sex trafficking - forcing people into sexual slavery - is a civil- and human-rights violation. It is an essential tenet of liberalism that we do not enslave people to do degrading work like this. Even the proponents of the sexual revolution of the sixties built their erotic insurgency around individual autonomy. Why does it matter to the Times that the "religious right" favors this issue?
The story's final insult to the reader's intelligence is it's inclusion of a quote from Robert Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches. While Edgar agreed that it was important for Justice to pursue religious freedom and human trafficking cases, there was still a need for race and poverty to get "the highest caliber of attention." His evidence? The "flawed government response to New Orleans and its mostly poor, black population after Hurricane Katrina." Wait a minute. Was that the Justice Department responding to Katrina? Was that Alberto Gonzalez running FEMA?