He has written a lengthy and informative report, “The Kansas City First Freedom Seminar, or How I Stopped the Jihad”. I’ll just excerpt a few pieces of it here.
I did in fact attend the event. As a result, you will have noticed, the US was not transformed today into a brutal Islamic dictatorship writhing in the vice-like grip of Shar’i’a law.
So, clearly, I succeeded.
A brief note before a somewhat snarky post: I do in fact regard the global Islamist movement, and the attempts by some western nations to accomodate it, as a substantial threat to western liberty; Brad and Adam will be familiar with my ravings at another site regarding the affair of the Jyllands-Posten cartoons. I did, however, enter this event somewhat skeptical of the thesis that Alberto Gonzales’s cabinet department was being overrun by advocates of submission to Allah’s will, and none of what I saw today changed my mind. The DOJ representatives present were all well-informed on the issues and seemed considerably more interested in informing the audience about the details of civil rights law pertaining to religious practice than in advocating any kind of agenda regarding reform of the law. Indeed, when invited specifically to comment upon the hate crimes legislation currently before Congress, the panel declined in toto to express an opinion. As Eric Treene, the DOJ’s Special Counsel for Religious Discrimination commented, “we’re attorneys in law enforcement and do not comment on pending legislation.”
He seems to think we were overreacting in our alarm about this seminar, and perhaps we were. But it’s always better to be too alarmed than not alarmed enough!
There have been concerns expressed in a variety of fora (including the GoV link above) that agencies such as the Council of American-Islamic Relations have been attempting to coopt the First Freedom agenda in order to cast aspersions upon legitimate criticisms of Islam. I have to say that I saw very, very little indication of that. The closest instance came near the end of the presentation, when a group of DOJ community relations specialist distributed a “Quiz on Muslims and Islam” authored by the Sikh Mediawatch and Resource Task Force (now known as SALDEF.) As an educator, it’s not hard for me to identify when a “quiz” is intended to re-educate its takers about a subject, and this was certainly such a quiz. As re-education efforts go, though, this was not a particularly pernicious one. I don’t think that pointing out, for instance, that Indonesia is the largest Muslim nation, can be considered to be part of an effort to force Americans to accomodate a radical Islamic agenda. The entire enterprise came off as more patronizing than misleading. Nor, to my knowledge, is SALDEF an organization that makes excuses for terrorist actions, as could be said of CAIR. In fact, I’d argue that Sikhs have had it pretty rough since 9/11, as they are among the most easily identifiable practicitioners of Islam, yet practice a school of thought that is specifically divorced from Wahabi ideology and which is historically no more inclined to terrorist tactics than any Christian denomination you’d care to name (the Indira Gandhi business being a prominent but atypical example).
Just a minor correction here: the Sikh religion is not a form of Islam; it is a reaction to Islam, a response of the indigenous population of the Indian subcontinent to the Moghul conquests.
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Another complaint that has been raised regarding the “First Freedom” project is that it seems to subordinate speech rights to those of religious practice; the tone of the discussion in the blogosphere suggests concern that this might indicate a trend to criminalize criticism of religion. To some extent the rhetoric of the First Freedom folks has lent credence to this concern; the opening remarks of Mr. Treene dwelt uncomfortably on the point that the framers of the constitution chose to list freedom of religious practice BEFORE the freedom of speech when writing the first amendment (hence “First Freedom”). When this point came into question, however-by a bearded, emphatic, Madison-quoting audience member who bore a stunning resemblence to former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop-the panel was quick to clarify that the “first” designation was for rhetorical purposes only.
Be that as it may, the DOJ’s expressed positions on the issues discussed did at times strike me as potentially dangerous to speech…
What was particularly interesting was Kappelhoff’s discussion of federalism concerns related to hate-crimes legislation. In discussion of the Church Arson Prevention Act (18 USC 247), Kappelhoff acknowledged that the act explicitly required that the offenses in question have an affect on interstate commerce. In his words, however, DOJ attorneys “have become very creative in our ways of establishing an affect on interstate commerce” in order to justify their prosecutions. I am not comforted by the idea that federal prosecutors consider it part of their job to make end-runs around the written intent of the legislation they are asked to enforce, particularly when the effort is a deliberate attempt to federalize what might legitimately be considered a state issue. I am still less comforted by the fact that said attorneys take pride in celebrating this practice at public seminars. One need not sympathize with hate groups to feel uncomfortable about the prospect of the government’s prosecutorial tactics coming untethered from the law.
Apparently, I was not alone in my concern with the strident tone of the government’s representatives regarding hate crimes. When commenter Bev Ehlen expressed the concern that “we should prosecute the crime itself, not the motive,” she recieved loud applause throughout the room. It should be noted that the panelists themselves were quick to agree with her sentiment. It may well be that the somewhat heated rhetoric of the attorneys in question is not indicative of their approach to prosecution. We should hope so.
But Rojas is sanguine about the overall thrust of the DOJ’s efforts:
On the whole, and despite the concerns listed above, I came away with the impression that the First Freedom project is on balance a pretty good idea; certainly it isn’t some kind of fifth column for madcap Islamism. In fact, I’m inclined to think that more liberals than conservatives would object; the whole process struck me as an attempt to expand appreciation for the free exercise clause of the first amendment, which is generally something of which conservatives tend to approve.
If that’s all that it is, then I will withdraw my alarm, and rest content with the efforts of our Department of Justice.
Be that as it may, though: I want it noted that when Kansas City needed counterjihad volunteers, it was ME that stemmed the advancing tide, damnit. The way I figure it, that makes me the new Charles Martel.
You people owe me. Big time.
OK, OK, Chuck! Do you want that in twenties or fifties?
Go over to The Crossed Pond and read the rest.