Nearly eight years ago, President George W. Bush made it clear when he created the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives that rewarding his Religious Right base was going to be a priority.
But now that priority has grown into an obsession.
In the final days of his term, Bush just can't seem to let it go. Administration officials at the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Labor are preparing new guidelines to help religious organizations receive public funding while continuing to discriminate in hiring.
A legal opinion by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2007 (released as a public memo in October of this year) said that "faith-based" social service agencies can collect government funds and still discriminate in hiring on religious grounds even if Congress specifically banned such bias in the program.
The opinion came when a $1.5 million DOJ grant was approved for World Vision, even though the evangelical Christian agency hires "only candidates who agree with World Vision's Statement of Faith and/or the Apostles' Creed."
That means taxpayers of all faiths and none are contributing to a federally funded program that hires only Christians of a specific persuasion. While the legislation creating the grant specifically prohibits the funds from going to any group that discriminates in hiring, the DOJ preposterously claims the Religious Freedom Restoration Act trumps these anti-discrimination provisions.
Bush's new guidelines lay out for religious groups how to successfully receive an exemption from hiring restrictions and still receive public funds through Labor and Health and Human Services. As the DOJ opinion suggests, the exemptions will be offered on a case-by-case basis to any religious organization that believes its religious character would be "substantially burdened" if it doesn't get to hire people of similar faith.
In the past, Bush has tried to remove the prohibitions against hiring discrimination, but his agenda could never get through Congress, which repeatedly blocked the administration's efforts.
"The Administration has fought for this with every possible tool at its disposal; with proposed legislation, with executive orders, with changes in regulations throughout the agencies of the United States, with White House guidance documents and with a very aggressive interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act," George Washington University Law Professor Ira C. Lupu said.
And for what?
President-elect Barack Obama has the power to rescind the Bush executive orders as well as these most recent proposed guidelines. Obama has already made it clear that while he will continue Bush's "faith-based' office, he will not support discrimination in hiring by religious groups that want to receive public funding.
"The Bush administration has pushed relentlessly to undermine the civil rights and civil liberties protections, and these moves by Health and Human Services and Labor are just the latest examples," said Americans United Executive Director Barry Lynn. "We are hopeful that these actions will be overturned in the new administration. We also hope that the Department of Justice under President Obama will review the DOJ civil rights exemption and reverse it – and that the agencies will follow."
Bush has to know that these guidelines aren't going to last long under the new administration. Isn't it time for him to just give it up?