2011-11-18 / Top Stories

AG Launches Religious Rights Initiative

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has announced the launch of the Religious Rights Initiative, a project of the office’s Civil Rights Bureau that will address religious rights issues and enforce anti-discrimination laws. The Religious Rights Initiative will target faith-based discrimination and violations of religious rights through public education, outreach and law enforcement, including litigation.

The Attorney General announced the launch of the Religious Rights Initiative in remarks before the Anti-Defamation League.

“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,” Attorney General 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 will lead a public education and outreach campaign to help inform communities around the state about the requirements of the state’s anti- discrimination laws. The campaign will also advance the Civil Rights Bureau’s enforcement efforts, combat religious discrimination through litigation and advocacy, and promote the process for filing religious discrimination complaints.

As part of the Initiative, the Attorney General’s office will release a series of “Know Your Rights” publications to outline strategies to both address and prevent religious discrimination in a variety of settings and circumstances. The first publication, “Religious Rights in the Workplace,” outlines the practical application of federal and state laws that protect religious freedom and prohibit religious discrimination. A resource for employees and employers, the pamphlet provides guidance concerning requests for religious accommodation in the workplace for days of religious observance, among other issues.

With the number of religious discrimination claims filed with the federal government having more than doubled since 1997, this new initiative reflects Attorney General Schneiderman’s commitment to religious freedom and fulfills his pledge to combat and prevent religious discrimination.

New Yorkers are encouraged to visit the Religious Rights Initiative website for more information, or to report a potential violation at http://www.ag.ny. gov/religiousrights. Violations may also be reported by contacting the Religious Rights Initiative in the Civil Rights Bureau at (212) 416-8250 or (800) 771- 7755.

The Religious Rights Initiative is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Kayla Gassmann and Director of Community Affairs and Engagement for Religious Rights Alyson Spindell under the supervision of Spencer Freedman, Director of the Religious Rights Initiative and Chief Counsel for Civil Rights, and Civil Rights Bureau Chief Kristen Clarke.

Ron Meier, New York Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League, said: “We welcome Attorney General Schneiderman’s commitment to safeguarding the religious liberty of all New Yorkers. His new ‘Religious Rights Initiative’ is important and timely. We applaud his leadership in this area and look forward to working closely with him on this new effort.”

Richard E. Barnes, Executive Director of the New York State Catholic Conference, said: “As the representatives of the largest religious denomination in the state, issues of religious liberty and discrimination have always been in the forefront of our concerns, both as they relate to threats against individuals and institutions. 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.”

Reverend A.R. Bernard, Senior Pastor of the Christian Cultural Center, said: “Our country is founded on certain freedoms, and the right to practice our faith is one we must protect. Attorney General Schneiderman’s Religious Rights Initiative will be a critical part of the work to educate communities, prevent discrimination, and promote understanding. I support the Attorney General in his effort against religious discrimination.”

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

Dr. Lenny Caro, President & CEO for the Bronx Chamber of Commerce, said: “We commend Attorney General Schneiderman for his commitment to this issue. New York State is a melting pot of a multitude of religions. The Religious Rights Initiative will provide businesses and employees with the guidance needed to ensure that religious rights are respected in the workplace. This project is a crucial resource.”

Safia Hussain, President of the Muslim Bar Association of New York, said: “The protection of religious rights is a critical issue for the Muslim community in New York. Although Muslims are approximately two percent of the American population, anti-Muslim bias complaints account for twenty-five percent of the total number of complaints received by the EEOC in recent years. Muslim children remain the unfortunate target of bullying at school, and campaigns against the establishment of mosques continue to attack the rights of Muslims to freely practice their faith.”

Sapreet Kaur, Executive Director of the Sikh Coalition, said: “We wholeheartedly welcome the launch of Religious Rights Initiative. Sikh New Yorkers, like members of many faith communities, face many challenges to the full realization of their rights under our state and federal laws. Attorney General Schneiderman is to be commended for bringing focus and attention to these issues.”

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