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 discrimination issues.
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 hate crimes."
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.

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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