Jus­tice ini­tia­tive aims to pro­tect re­li­gious groups

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY JEFF MOR­DOCK

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.

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