The following post appears courtesy of the Civil Rights Division and William C. Killian, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee.
Religious freedom is one of the United States’ founding principles, protected by the First Amendment and other federal laws. When Congress enacted the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, it not only barred discrimination based on race, national origin and sex in a wide range of areas, but also barred discrimination based on religion.
The Justice Department, under Attorney General Holder, continues to enforce civil rights laws that protect religious freedom. The department’s Civil Rights Division enforces a wide range of laws protecting religious liberty, including:
- laws barring discrimination based on religion in employment, public education, housing, credit, and access to public facilities and public accommodations;
- the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which bars zoning authorities from discriminating against houses of worship and religious schools;
- laws protecting the religious rights of institutionalized persons; and
- criminal statutes such as the Church Arson Prevention Act making it a federal crime to attack persons or institutions based on their religion, or otherwise interfere with religious exercise.
U.S. Attorney’s Offices around the nation are also working in their districts to engage with their local Arab and Muslim-American communities, including participating in annual dinners, mosque openings, lectures and town hall meetings. In addition, U.S. Attorneys’ Offices are working in their districts to engage with their local Arab and Muslim-American communities.
Over the last month, the Justice Department’s continued commitment to protecting religious freedom has been showcased with the opening of two Islamic Centers in the state of Tennessee.
Just last week in Chattanooga, William C. Killian, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, spoke at the opening of an Islamic Center. Over 250 individuals, including federal, state and local officials, law enforcement officers and members of the public attended the event.
Speaking at the opening of the Islamic Center, U.S. Attorney Killian stated:
Whether a gurdwara, synagogue, temple, church or mosque, we must preserve and enforce the First Amendment’s freedom of religion.
We have been, are now, and will always remain the greatest country on this earth. Our diversity is our strength. Respect for, and the embrace of various cultures is a pillar, upon which our great nation was founded. Even though we are culturally diverse, more unites us than divides us. As an American, there are no excuses to be made, for your ethnic origin, religious preference, sexual orientation or any other identity. We all are and will remain Americans, “with liberty and justice for all.”
Just 100 miles away in Murfreesboro, the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro is also set to open its doors, in part thanks to the department’s continued commitment to religious freedom. In July, the department filed a federal lawsuit against Rutherford County, Tenn., alleging that the county violated RLUIPA when it refused to process or issue a certificate of occupancy to the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.
After the department’s complaint, a federal judge in Tennessee issued a temporary restraining order ordering county officials to provide the final building inspection for the mosque. Just last week, the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro obtained its final certificate of occupancy.
The Justice Department is committed to enforcing civil rights laws that protect religious freedom.
Additional information about the Justice Department’s efforts to combat religious discrimination may be found at www.justice.gov/crt/spec_topics/religiousdiscrimination.