Friday, September 18, 2009

Center for Inquiry – The Faith Based Rule allowing Discrimination in Hiring

We’re working on removing the stains of the Bush years; we’re not quite there yet, but we’re working on it.

I just received notification from the CFI that they have joined with 57 other groups in a petition to the Justice Department to rescind a Bush era legal memo, issued from The Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) in June of 2007, which argued that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) grants religious organizations leeway to discriminate, as they see fit, on religious grounds when hiring staff in taxpayer-funded programs.

In a joint letter sent to Eric Holder, the Obama Attorney General, the Bush administration’s interpretation was cited as “far-fetched” and the argument made that there is no justification for such a blanket override of all of the nondiscrimination provisions in all of the federal statutes.

In other words, they’re asking the federal government to remove a religion’s right to discriminate, at least when tax dollars are involved.

This should be an interesting one.

The RFRA addresses religion neutral laws which nevertheless may have a negative impact upon the free exercise of religion. A perfect example of this is a 2006 case in which a Brazilian Church in New Mexico had its sacramental tea confiscated because it contained an illegal substance.

The church sued under RFRA, seeking not only the return of the confiscated tea but a guarantee safeguarding future shipments. The U.S. District Court, the 10th Circuit Appeals Court and the Supreme Court all agreed with the church.

The money clause in the law is (a)(3) which states “…governments should not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification…”

This is what the Bush Administration decided allows a religious organization to discriminate in hiring for programs that are tax-payer-funded. Notice that we’re not talking about non-taxpayer-funded situations where religion would still be allowed to discriminate. Actually I could simplify this one immensely, don’t give taxpayer funds to faith based groups.

Since that’s not going to happen any time soon, clearly this rule should be rescinded. Religions don’t deserve a special privilege to discriminate and this applies especially in programs supported by tax dollars. If I’m good enough to have my tax dollars used to support your program, you shouldn’t be able to discriminate against me in hiring practices.

Let’s see if the Obama Administration has the guts to do what should be done. I’m not all that hopeful because the Justice Department is still fighting the effort to get the Christian Cross memorial off of federal park land.

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