White HouseWritten by Don Byrd

Late last year, the Baptist Joint Committee and several other religious and civil liberty advocates joined together in a collective initiative called Know Your Neighbor. The purpose of Know Your Neighbor is to increase dialogue and understanding across religious differences. The White House invited the coalition to participate in an event dedicated to religious pluralism and the fight against religious discrimination, and pledged to continue the discussion in roundtables across the country.

Last week, the White House held a follow-up event announcing the issuance of a new Justice Department report, entitled “Combating Religious Discrimination Today,” which lays out the findings of those roundtables, focusing on 4 specific areas of concern: education, employment, hate crimes, and land use.

Here is an excerpt from the report’s Introduction:

[D]espite the existence of a number of statutes that prohibit religious discrimination, there remain significant gaps between the protections of our laws and the experiences of people in their daily lives. Communities recounted how many people are confronted with discrimination and harassment and do not know where to turn for support or assistance. There was agreement that the Federal government needs to enhance its outreach, improve its communications, and streamline its bureaucracy. By making government more accessible and approachable, we can ensure that all people receive the full protections embedded in our laws.

Federal agencies, including the EEOC, Department of Education, and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division announced a number of new steps designed to address these concerns. Melissa Rogers, Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, detailed many of those developments in a blog post.

Initiatives like this are essential and needed now more than ever. As the report notes, “our country is more religiously diverse than ever before.” The lack of understanding many religious communities are experiencing can result in harassment, discrimination, and even violence.

The Know Your Neighbor campaign stands for a simple idea: by reaching out and getting to know people in our communities, we increase understanding and decrease the kinds of tension that can lead to those threats to our religious liberty. I’m proud that the BJC has joined that effort. For more, see the BJC’s Religious Liberty For ALL page. You can also see a few photos from Friday’s “Combating Religious Discrimination Today” event on the BJC’s Facebook page.