According to ACSBlog, the Justice Department has released a memo providing legal cover for faith-based programs who receive federal funding but use religious affiliation as a basis for hiring. The memo, which is available here, reinterprets the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 to categorically exempt any religious organization that receives federal funding from any anti-discrimination policies, even if the programs through which these groups receive their funding specifically require inclusive hiring practices.
The blog post references a New York Times article, which delves deeper into the hiring practices of World Vision, a faith-based group that receives federal money to pay for its anti-gang programs, but only hires Christians. According to ACS, World Vision defines itself as “an international partnership of Christians whose mission is to follow our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in working with the poor and oppressed to promote human transformation, seek justice, and bear witness to the good news of the Kingdom of God.”
Unfortunately, this memo seems to be another instance of the Justice Department providing cover for the excesses of the Bush administration – this time, its efforts to expand federal funding for faith-based initiatives. And as the Times article points out, these issues are often “difficult to get before a court.” In 2007, the Supreme Court ignored 40 years of precedent in determining that individual taxpayers do not have standing to challenge executive expenditures on faith-based programs under the Constitution’s establishment clause. It seems unlikely then that the Court would allow individuals to challenge these programs’ hiring practices either.
Barry Lynn, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State said “The Bush administration has been trying to allow religious recipients of tax dollars to discriminate in hiring. No Congress intended that. The Constitution does not permit it. And this memo is just one more example of this administration subverting Congressional and constitutional intent in pursuit of a forbidden goal: discrimination in hiring.”