Justice initiative aims to protect religious groups
The Department of Justice on Wednesday announced a new effort to prevent municipalities from discriminating against religious groups.
Dubbed the “Place to Worship Initiative,” the Justice Department has promised to ramp up enforcement of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, a law signed by President Bill Clinton protecting churches. The law makes it illegal for communities to use zoning ordinances to bar religious groups.
At an event Wednesday, Mr. Sessions said it is imperative that the government raise awareness about the protections available to religious institutions.
“In recent years, the cultural climate has become less hospitable to people of faith and to religious belief,” Mr. Sessions said. “Many Americans have felt that their freedom to practice their faith has been under attack.”
“This feeling is understandable,” he added. “Religious Americans have heard themselves called deplorables. They’ve heard themselves called bitter clingers.”
“Deplorables” and “bitter clingers” were derogatory terms used by the last two Democratic presidential nominees — respectively, by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then-Sen. Barack Obama — to describe rural conservative voters.
As part of that initiative, the Justice Department on Wednesday filed a religious discrimination lawsuit against a New Jersey community accusing it of spitefully thwarting an Orthodox Jewish organization’s efforts to move into a bigger facility.
The lawsuit is the culmination of a Justice Department investigation that began last summer into the zoning practices of Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey. Both the borough of Woodcliff Lake and its zoning board are named as defendants.
“Make no mistake: Hate crimes are violent crimes,” Mr. Sessions said noting that numerous Jewish community centers have received bomb threats over the last year.
Valley Chabad, a Hasidic group, held meetings in a single-family home in Woodcliff Lake. When the group tried to expand into a larger property, the borough blocked them at every turn, according the lawsuit. First, the group tried to move into a property that was later seized by Woodcliff Lake through eminent domain.