Anti-Defamation League Knocks Obama's Faith-Based Initiatives

The Jewish group is worried about federally backed faith-based hiring.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

I'm surprised more liberal faith-based groups haven't spoken out against the Obama administration for postponing the decision over whether to permit faith-based hiring with federal funds administered through its new Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. It's likely a testament to the administration's outreach to critics of federally backed faith-based hiring. Many of those critics were invited to join the new White House Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

The liberal groups that have dinged Obama for punting on the hiring question are the traditional church/state separation watch dogs: Americans United for Separation of Church and State and People for the American Way.

But in a letter to the White House yesterday, the Anti-Defamation League cited a list of concerns about church/state separation in the faith-based initiatives and took particular umbrage at Obama's delaying the hiring decision. Here's an excerpt:

We are concerned that your Executive Order fails to address critical constitutional safeguards for protecting religious organizations, beneficiaries, and the government.

Especially in the context of your vision of an expanded, better-funded faith-based initiative, we are deeply troubled by the prospect that taxpayer money will likely fund religious discrimination in employment decisions involving the people who deliver faith-based social services.

We believe that the proposed case-by-case review by the Justice Department is insufficient because this approach misses the opportunity for prophylactic guidance and Presidential leadership against employment discrimination by faith-based grant recipients. During the campaign, you stated that the Bush Administration faith-based initiative lacked essential safeguards against proselytizing and discrimination. Yet, the failure to establish new standards by which the Justice Department will judge whether an organization is entitled to an exemption to the religious nondiscrimination laws means that the old, inadequate safeguards remain the legal standards. 

My prediction: the more time elapses without resolution from the White House on faith-based hiring, the more of these complaints we'll see from prominent religious minority and progressive religious groups. I spoke today with White House Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships director Joshua DuBois, who says there's no timetable for resolving the issue.