Dozens of Groups to Justice Dept: End Faith-Based Hiring

Dozens of groups urge the Justice Department to end a Bush-era policy.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

More than seven months after announcing that it would deal with the so-called hiring issue around faith-based programs on a "case by case basis," the White House has given no indication of how its piecemeal policy is playing out.

Many conservative religious interests want Obama to continue George W. Bush's policy of allowing faith-based groups to hire only fellow believers with federal funds. But many religious minorities, liberals, and secular groups are appalled at the thought that the Obama White House is extending the Bush-era policy. Growing ever more frustrated that the administration is delaying action on what they consider a bedrock constitutional issue, that coalition is stepping up its campaign to get Obama to officially reverse the Bush policy.

Here are excerpts from a letter the group sent the White House and the attorney general today, along with a full list of signatories:

Dear Mr. Attorney General:

The undersigned religious, education, civil rights, labor, and health organizations are committed to protecting religious liberty, and working to do so at all levels of the government. We write today to request that you direct the Office of Legal Counsel ("OLC") to review and withdraw its June 29, 2007 Memorandum ("OLC Memo"). The OLC Memo's interpretation that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 ("RFRA") provides for a blanket override of statutory nondiscrimination provisions is erroneous and threatens core civil rights and religious freedom protections.

. . . Upon taking office, the Bush Administration sought to impose "charitable choice" on nearly every federal social service program. Stymied in its legislative efforts to do so, the Administration instead issued Executive Orders and federal regulations to allow religious organizations to participate directly in federal grant programs without the traditional safeguards that protect civil rights and religious liberty.

. . . When President Barack Obama issued Executive Order 13498, amending former President George W. Bush's Executive Order 13199 (Establishment of White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives), he underlined the importance of ensuring that partnerships between government and faith-based institutions can be created and maintained effectively while "preserving our fundamental constitutional commitments." The OLC Memo, however, stands as one of the most notable examples of the Bush Administration's attempt to impose a constitutionally questionable and unwise policy—RFRA should not be interpreted or employed as a tool for broadly overriding statutory protections against religious discrimination or to create a broad free exercise right to receive government grants without complying with applicable regulations that protect taxpayers.

We accordingly request that the Obama Administration publicly announce its intention to review the OLC Memo, and that at the end of that review, withdraw the OLC Memo and expressly disavow its erroneous interpretation of RFRA, the most significant free exercise protection of the post-Smith era.

African American Ministers in Action (AAMIA)

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
American Association of University Women
Asian American Justice Center (AAJC)
American Civil Liberties Union
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO
American Humanist Association
American Jewish Committee
Americans for Religious Liberty
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Anti-Defamation League
Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty
Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
B'nai B'rith International
Center for Inquiry
Central Conference of American Rabbis
Disciples Justice Action Network
Equal Partners in Faith
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Interfaith Alliance
Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America
Hindu American Foundation
Human Rights Campaign
Japanese American Citizens League
Jewish Council on Public Affairs
Lambda Legal
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
Legal Momentum
National Center for Lesbian Rights
National Community Action Foundation
National Council of Jewish Women
National Council of La Raza
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
National Education Association
National Employment Lawyers Association
National Ministries, American Baptist Churches USA
National Organization for Women
National Partnership for Women and Families
National Women's Law Center
OMB Watch
People For the American Way
The Rabbinical Assembly
Rainbow PUSH Coalition
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Secular Coalition for America
Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS)
Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF)
Sikh Council on Religion and Education
Texas Faith Network
Texas Freedom Network
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
Women of Reform Judaism
Women's Law Project

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