Americans United for Separation of Church and State today joined a coalition of 58 organizations urging Attorney General Eric Holder to revoke a Bush-era rule regarding "faith-based" funding that the groups say threatens civil rights and religious freedom.
In June of 2007, the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) issued a legal memo asserting that a federal law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) gives religious organizations a blanket right to discriminate on religious grounds when hiring staff in taxpayer-funded programs.
In a joint letter to Holder today, a broad coalition of organizations said RFRA does no such thing.
“The Bush administration twisted federal law to buttress its misguided policies and allow religious discrimination in taxpayer-funded ‘faith-based’ programs,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “It’s time for the Obama administration to correct this error.”
The letter calls the Bush interpretation of RFRA “far-fetched” and goes on to assert, “The guidance in the OLC Memo is not justified under applicable legal standards and threatens to tilt policy toward an unwarranted end that would damage civil rights and religious liberty.”
The organizations argue that RFRA, passed in 1993, was designed to protect religious liberty, not countenance discrimination.
Many of the organizations signing the letter are members of the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination. The Coalition argues that religious groups that accept public funds should be required to meet federal civil rights laws.
Aside from Americans United, the following groups signed the letter: African American Ministers in Action; American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee; American Association of University Women; Asian American Justice Center; American Civil Liberties Union; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO; American Humanist Association; American Jewish Committee; Americans for Religious Liberty; 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 for Public Affairs; Lambda Legal; Leadership Conference on Civil Rights; Legal Momentum; NAACP; NA’AMAT USA; 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; Secular Coalition for America; Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S.; Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund; Sikh Council on Religion and Education; Texas Faith Network; Texas Freedom Network; Union for Reform Judaism; 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.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.