Justice Department: R.R.U.

For anyone surpised that the House passed a bill last week that would assure tax-payer-funded organizations’ right to religiously discriminate in hiring, there’s more precedent for unequal opportunity in the Justice Department’s religious-rights unit: a branch of the civil rights division with its own special counsel, Eric Treene, formerly of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The Los Angeles Times reports that the three-year old unit has served as (another) legal arm for the Bush administration’s battle to rectify “years of illegal discrimination against religious groups and their followers” by…giving religious groups their own slice of discimination pie? The unit’s decision to back the Salvation Army’s use of a “religious litmus test” (requiring employees to give information regarding their faiths, churches attended and their ministers, and also changing the group’s mission statement to priorize “preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ” above all other goals) in a discrimination case brought by 18 long-time employees, is one of the Justice Department’s more controversial positions, but one, the Times notes, that corresponds to Bush administration efforts in Congress, courts and through faith-based initiatives regulations. The unit has also been involved in cases ranging from a Muslim student’s right to wear religious clothing to public school, a university biology professor’s refusal to recomend students who don’t believe in evolution, the enforcement of a 2000 law giving preferential treatment to religious bodies in zoning disputes, to three separate filings in support of the Child Evangelism Fellowship’s efforts to establish after-school “Good News Clubs” in public elementary schools.