The Department of Housing and Urban Development should scrap proposed regulations governing "faith-based" organizations because they violate the U.S. Constitution and undercut civil rights protections, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
HUD announced rule changes dealing with its policy toward faith-based organizations in January. On March 25, the U.S. House Financial Services Housing Subcommittee is holding a hearing on the new regulations and how they will affect participation of faith-based groups in HUD-funded programs.
Americans United says HUD officials are on the wrong track and encouraged the congressional panel to examine the changes closely. The proposed regulations, AU says, would result in too much entanglement between church and state.
" These proposed HUD policies would enshrine religious discrimination as the law of the land and place government in the business of paying for church buildings," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United.
Lynn cited several problems with the new proposed HUD regulations:
- The regulations allow publicly funded job discrimination on the basis of religious belief. Under the new HUD rules, religious groups could take government funding and still discriminate on the basis of religion when hiring staff. Fundamentalist Christian groups, for example, could accept federal aid and still refuse to hire Jews, Muslims or Roman Catholics. AU argues that no discrimination should be permitted in tax-funded programs.
- The regulations allow tax funds to be used to build facilities at houses of worship. AU asserts that the Supreme Court has clearly ruled that tax funds may not be used to erect facilities that are used for worship. Houses of worship, says AU, must be erected and maintained with voluntary contributions.
- The regulations allow tax funding to go to "pervasively sectarian" groups. While the new rules supposedly forbid tax funding for religious activities, they permit funding of groups that are inherently religious and undertake primarily religious activities. AU says these two policies are in conflict and the new rules, if implemented, are likely to result in taxpayer funding of religious activities.
On March 7, Americans United attorneys outlined their concerns in a letter to HUD officials.
AU's Lynn said the proposed HUD rules are indicative of a larger trend within the Bush administration toward government-funded religion.
"This administration seems to believe that every problem America faces, from drug addiction to homelessness, can be solved by forcing taxpayers to fund religious groups," Lynn said. "I have never seen an administration with more disregard for the constitutional principle of separation of church and state."
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.