State launches Religious Rights Initiative - Catholic Courier

State launches Religious Rights Initiative

New York state is cracking down on faith-based discrimination and violations of religious rights, according to a Nov. 9 announcement from New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.

The Civil Rights Bureau, which is part of the attorney general’s office, recently launched the Religious Rights Initiative, which will use public education, outreach and law enforcement — including litigation — to address religious-rights issues and enforce anti-discrimination laws. The initiative is necessary because the number of religious discrimination claims filed with the federal government has more than doubled since 1997, according to Schneiderman’s Nov. 9 statement.

"Our state’s rich history of religious diversity is founded on our nation’s Bill of Rights and enshrined by laws that protect New Yorkers’ right to freely practice their faith," Schneiderman said. "The Religious Rights Initiative will focus on violations of this fundamental freedom, ensure that religious rights are protected and work with communities throughout the state to foster and promote religious tolerance."

The Religious Rights Initiative’s public information and outreach campaign will help communities throughout the state become familiar with the requirements of the state’s anti-discrimination laws. The attorney general’s office plans to release a series of publications that will outline strategies to address and prevent religious discrimination in a variety of settings and circumstances. The series’ first publication, titled "Religious Rights in the Workplace," outlines the practical application of the state and federal laws that protect religious freedom and prohibit religious discrimination. It also provides guidance for employees and employers alike about such issues as requests for religious accommodation in the workplace for days of religious observance.

Richard E. Barnes, executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference, lauded the creation of the Religious Rights Initiative. The Catholic conference is the public-policy arm of New York’s eight bishops, who have long been concerned about issues of religious discrimination and threats against individuals and institutions, Barnes said.

"Such threats have caused the bishops of the United States to redouble their efforts in examining laws and regulations that support and foster such discrimination, and public policies that threaten religious liberty. We are grateful that Attorney General Schneiderman has undertaken this effort of enormous concern to all those who cherish the rights granted to Americans by our Constitution," Barnes said.

Leaders from a number of other faith-based organizations representing the state’s Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Seventh-Day Adventists and Jews also welcomed news of the new initiative, as did representatives of the Anti-Defamation League and the New York Civil Liberties Union.

"This is a welcome and timely initiative," said the Rev. Chloe Breyer, executive director of the Interfaith Center of New York. "New Yorkers of so many faiths and traditions give so much to our state. The time has come for their rights to be respected."

New York residents can learn more about the initiative or report potential violations by visiting www.ag.ny.gov/religiousrights. They also may report violations by calling the Religious Rights Initiative in the Civil Rights Bureau at 1-800-771-7755.

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