Thursday, June 14, 2007

1) Flag Day, 2) the Justice Department

This is Flag Day, “a day to honor your flag” we are told. I usually put my little flags on display on Flag Day and July 4th. I am touched by the American flag and its symbolism. I revere the American flag. It means a lot to me. But I cringe when KYW Radio in Philadelphia keeps repeating Bob Nelson’s reading of “I Am Your Flag” on Flag Day. In my apartment, the definition of a split second is the time between hearing the essay coming on and flipping off the radio. KYW Radio always repeats the essay, “Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” at Christmas time. I hate that one too. Both are intended to elicit push-button responses to things and events that call for reflection and introspection. In that same vein, the Bush administration has instructed the Justice Department to pursue religion-oriented cases rather than civil rights cases, in order to elicit push-button responses from voters. Using religion as a political ploy is not new in the GOP, but using the Justice Department to promote that agenda is, as critics say,”outside its mandate from Congress”. This morning, the New York Times ran an article by Neil A. Lewis (“Justice Dept. Reshapes Its Civil Rights Mission”). Lewis said, “While statutes prohibit religious discrimination in areas like employment and housing, no laws address some of the issues in which the department has become involved.” Lewis quotes law professor Brian K. Landsberg, a former Justice Department lawyer under Republican and Democrat administrations: “Not until recently has anyone in the department considered religious discrimination such a high priority...No one had ever considered it to be of the same magnitude as race or national origin.” Lewis said, “In recent years, the Bush administration has recast the federal government’s role in civil rights by aggressively pursuing religion-oriented cases while significantly diminishing its involvement in the traditional area of race.” Not only is the Justice Department Attorney General a lying Bush flack who has engaged in illegal acts at the behest of the White House, but the Justice Department has engaged in hiring and firing US Attorneys for political reasons, defended the Republican Party when it tramples the Constitution, and now, we find out, as counsel for Americans United for Separation of Church and State Ayesha Khan said, “They (the Justice Department) are engaging in freewheeling social engineering...using the power of the federal government to put in place an ideological, not constitutional agenda.” Lewis listed recent changes in the Department of Justice focus: • Intervening in federal court cases on behalf of religion-based groups like the Salvation Army that assert they have the right to discriminate in hiring in favor of people who share their beliefs even though they are running charitable programs with federal money. • Supporting groups that want to send home religious literature with schoolchildren; in one case, the government helped win the right of a group in Massachusetts to distribute candy canes as part of a religious message that the red stripes represented the blood of Christ. • Vigorously enforcing a law enacted by Congress in 2000 that allows churches and other places of worship to be free of some local zoning restrictions. The division has brought more than two-dozen lawsuits on behalf of churches, synagogues and mosques. • Taking on far fewer hate crimes and cases in which local law enforcement officers may have violated someone’s civil rights. The resources for these traditional cases have instead been used to investigate trafficking cases, typically involving foreign women used in the sex trade, a favored issue of the religious right. • Sharply reducing the complex lawsuits that challenge voting plans that might dilute the strength of black voters. The department initiated only one such case through the early part of this year, compared with eight in a comparable period in the Clinton administration. If there is any reason for anyone in any minority to vote for the Republicans, I fail to understand it.

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