White House, Salvation Army Strike Secret Deal On Discrimination Through Faith-based Initiative

AU's Lynn Describes Bush Administration's Back Room Political Deal As 'Shameful'

Although a White House/Salvation Army deal has fallen apart, the Bush administration's faith-based initiative continues to allow federally funded employment discrimination, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Yesterday, media reports revealed that the White House had engaged in secret negotiations with the Salvation Army. In exchange for the religious group's political support for the faith-based initiative in Congress, the Bush administration allegedly promised to make regulatory changes that would allow the Salvation Army and other religious groups to discriminate in hiring with public funds. The religious group was particularly concerned about overriding state and local laws barring job discrimination against gays.

Last night, Bush officials indicated they were backing off from making those regulatory changes. However, while some have characterized this step as progress on improving the measure, Americans United, the nation's leading opponent of the faith-based initiative, said nothing has really changed.

"The Bush administration is engaged in an outrageous shell game," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "The faith-based initiative still mandates federally funded employment discrimination on religious grounds. White House spin doctors are trying to paper over the employment discrimination at the core of this initiative, but no one should be fooled.

"White House officials have promised that they won't pursue discrimination through executive order," Lynn added. "But they don't need regulations to allow discrimination -- it's already a key component of the federal legislation working its way through Congress."

The "Community Solutions Act" (H.R. 7), introduced by Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), is the congressional version of the Bush initiative. "Charitable choice" provisions of the bill, which would direct federal grants and contracts to churches and other religious groups without legal safeguards, have been controversial for a series of reasons, including questions about discrimination with public funds.

H.R. 7 already specifically exempts religious groups that receive aid from state and local anti-discrimination laws. In other words, the opportunities to discriminate that the Salvation Army sought are already in the bill.

The Watts bill also specifically allows religious groups to receive public funds to provide social services, but still discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion and other characteristics the religious group might find relevant, including sexual orientation, marital status or pregnancy status.

"The White House hasn't backed down, given in or compromised on anything," said AU's Lynn. "Administration officials know that the Watts bill will allow federally funded employment discrimination, so they had nothing to lose by dropping the proposed regulatory changes.

"If the Bush plan becomes law, people can be discriminated against if they're gay, divorced or the 'wrong' religion," Lynn concluded. "That fact alone should ruin this bill's chances of becoming law."

Lynn noted that the administration's support for employment discrimination is wildly unpopular with the American people. According to a survey released in April by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, an overwhelming 78 percent of Americans say government-funded religious groups should not be able to hire only people who share their beliefs to staff their programs, a key component of the Bush plan.

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.

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.