[JURIST] US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] civil rights investigations in the Bush administration have focused on issues of religious freedom and discrimination at the expense of race, the New York Times reported Thursday. As an extreme instance, the Times pointed to DOJ intervention in a case helping a religious group secure the right to "distribute candy canes as part of a religious message that the red stripes represented the blood of Christ." The DOJ Civil Rights Division [official website] has also been active in enforcing a 2000 law that allows houses of worship to be exempt from local zoning restrictions, bringing lawsuits on behalf of churches, synagogues, and mosques across the country. Since 2004, the department has maintained a semi-monthly newsletter [archive] focusing exclusively on religious freedom.
The Times also highlighted unprecedented DOJ hirings [NYT chart] of graduated law students from a new wave of religious-affiliated law schools such as Regent University and Ave Maria [academic websites]. It quoted former DOJ lawyer Rigel Oliveri, who worked in the department during the Clinton and early Bush years, as saying that with increasing political appointee oversight of hiring decisions, "the change in the quality of people who were chosen was very pronounced," compared to previous years when hires from Harvard, Yale and other prestigious top-tier law schools dominated the department. The New York Times has more.