ACLU Endorses Legislation to Overturn Bush Executive Order That Allowed Discrimination in Workplace

June 25, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – On the 62d anniversary of the first Presidential executive order banning government-funded religious discrimination, the American Civil Liberties Union today endorsed new legislation that would void President Bush’s executive order that imposed by White House fiat much of his plan for government-funded religion. The ACLU said that the bill would stop blatant discrimination by religious groups in how they hire and to whom they provide taxpayer-funded services.

“Congress has rejected taxpayer-funded religious discrimination since President Bush took office,”” said Christopher Anders, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “But rather than compromise and work within the political process, the President decided to circumvent public and congressional opinion in his quest to allow religious discrimination in the workplace. This new legislation would restore to the Congress its proper role in setting national policy.””

Rep. Bobby Scott, D-VA, unveiled his legislation at a Capitol Hill news conference this morning. The ACLU said the Scott legislation would restore the civil liberties protections that President Bush seeks to take away through his faith-based program for government-funded religion.

Last December, President Bush issued an executive order that gave the federal government a freer hand to funnel public money for social services to religiously based providers. The ACLU and other civil rights groups objected strongly to the plan because it would allow these religious groups to use taxpayer dollars to discriminate in hiring and the provision of services.

As an example of the behavior that would be validated by the President’s plan, the ACLU pointed to a Georgia lawsuit, filed by the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund against the United Methodist Children’s Home in Decatur. In it, a Jewish psychotherapist named Alan Yorker is demanding damages because the home explicitly denied him employment based on his religion — even after it admitted that he was the most qualified candidate. In fact, an administrator freely told Yorker that he was rejected because he is Jewish and told another applicant that resumes with Jewish names are automatically thrown out.

Ironically, Yorker’s grandfather had, a century before, faced similar discrimination by the New York Central Railroad, which laid off dozens of Jewish and African-American workers during a national recession. In response to being fired, his grandfather actually changed his name to Yorker in the hope that such discrimination would never visit itself on his children or grandchildren.

The ACLU said that despite the Administration’s inclusion of the faith-based initiative among its top priorities for the last two years, charities and the American public have shown a remarkable lack of enthusiasm for the program.

“The President should listen to the real concerns of America’s charities,” Anders said. “The wide consensus is that what’s needed is more money and better training – not the ability to refuse to help or to fire people because they happen not to agree with one’s religious beliefs.”

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