Despite Criticism, DOJ's
Civil Rights Division Continues to Work with Muslim Americans
Earlier this month the McClatchy newswire
service published an article entitled "50 Years Later,
Lamenting State of Civil Rights Division" (McClatchy,
9/4/07) which made far-reaching claims about the Civil Rights
Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) during the civil
rights era and its work since then. In assessing the division's
current scope of work, experts interviewed made some far-reaching
claims which deserve a response.
In the article, Pacific University professor Brian Landsberg
states, "The main religious discrimination you would
find these days is against Muslims, and I don't know that
this office is doing anything to protect their rights."
The article went on to discuss the deteriorative state of
the Department of Justice, while concentrating on religious
In response, the Muslim Public Affairs Council wrote a letter
to the editor of McClatchy, which was recently published and
posted on their website:
The September 5th story "50 years later, lamenting state
of Civil Rights Division" made sweeping claims about
the current state of the Justice Department. While the article
accurately notes that "the main religious discrimination
you would find these days is against Muslims," its assertion
that the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties is doing
nothing to protect the rights of Muslims is simply incorrect.
As a leading Muslim American advocacy organization, the Muslim
Public Affairs Council maintains a strong and effective relationship
with the Department of Justice. The Office of Civil Rights
and Civil Liberties regularly meets with MPAC, as well as
Arab and Sikh groups, to address community concerns.
Defending the rights of Muslims has been a major focus of
the Civil Rights Division's efforts to protect against religious
discrimination and hate crimes. Since 9/11, the Civil Rights
division has prosecuted several cases dealing with threats
of violence against Muslims, and cases involving harassment
of Muslim students make up the single largest category of
religious discrimination in education cases pursued by the
Division. Religious discrimination is a growing problem, and
while there may be policy concerns emanating from within the
Justice Department that negatively affect the Muslim community,
unfairly pointing fingers at the Civil Rights Division is
not the answer.
Just this spring, MPAC reported the case of a Muslim woman
from Philadelphia who was receiving threatening notes of violence
from an employee of the hotel where she worked as a manager.
The FBI and the Department of Justice thoroughly investigated
this matter and prosecuted the woman, who pled guilty to a
federal charge of criminal interference with employment on
the basis of race and religion. Success stories such as these
exemplify the fruits of positive engagement with government
officials on civil rights and civil liberties issues.
"We have worked hard to fight religious discrimination
and hate crimes. Religious liberty is a core American value
that we are committed to upholding for people of all faiths,"
Eric Treene, the Civil Rights Division's Special Counsel for
Religious Discrimination, stated. "Unfortunately, hate
crimes and religious discrimination have affected the Muslim
community disproportionately since 9/11, and we have put a
special emphasis on these cases, working with community groups
like MPAC to identify incidents and patterns, and to dedicate
the resources needed to ensure that these cases are prosecuted
effectively. We appreciate MPAC's words of support for our
efforts to counter religious discrimination and religion-based
MPAC's relationship with the Civil Rights Division of the
DOJ benefits the Muslim American community in countering Islamophobia
through government engagement. We need our government partners
on all concerns, even when and mostly when we disagree with
some of the policies of the administration.