"Religious Freedom Expands Under Bush," a Commentary by Charles C. Haynes

March 6, 2007

Author: Charles C. Haynes

Source: Burlington Free Press


Charles C. Haynes--Here's one of the best-kept secrets about the Bush presidency: Over the past five years, the U.S. Department of Justice has quietly, but vigorously, enforced civil rights laws designed to protect religious freedom.

Now Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wants to get the word out. On Feb. 20, he released a report detailing the DOJ's accomplishments and announced an initiative called the First Freedom Project to carry out "even greater enforcement of religious rights for all Americans."

Since presidents aren't shy about touting their accomplishments, I'm not sure why we haven't heard more about this before now. Maybe we're so busy shouting past one another about church-state conflicts that we overlook threats to the free exercise of religion.

Lest we forget, there are two religious-liberty provisions in the First Amendment: no establishment, and free exercise. Establishment-clause battles over "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance or the Ten Commandments in the courthouse grab the headlines. But free-exercise problems -- discrimination against religious practice and expression in the workplace, schools, land use and elsewhere -- have a real impact on the lives of millions of Americans.