“Faith-based” social service agencies can collect government funds and still discriminate in hiring on religious grounds even in a program where Congress has specifically banned such bias, according to a recently publicized memo by the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The Bush administration signed off on a $1.5 million federal grant to World Vision, an organization that hires only those who agree to accept its statement of faith and the Apostles’ Creed. The evangelical Christian group received the DOJ funding under a statute that forbids discriminatory hiring.
Yet the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel said the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act allows exceptions to federal laws that, if followed, would impose a “substantial burden” on free exercise of religion.
The ruling is inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent, according to Marty Lederman, a Georgetown University law professor. He told The New York Times that this memo “is designed to serve the president’s political agenda.”
Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn said he hoped the Bush administration’s opinion will not stand under President-elect Barack Obama.
“The Bush administration has been trying to allow religious recipients of tax dollars to discriminate in hiring,” Lynn told The Times. “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.”
Obama said during his campaign that he would continue faith-based partnerships but would not allow taxpayer money to go to private agencies that engage in religious bias or proselytize.