ACLU Says White House Support for Religious Discrimination Is Not Shared by Congress or the American Public

June 24, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Reacting to a new White House report arguing for taxpayer-funded religious discrimination, the American Civil Liberties Union today said that the President’s clear support for religious discrimination is not shared by most of Congress and the American people.

“”Let’s be very clear, the President and his faith-based boosters are advocating a system where our tax dollars can go to groups who rely on religious bias when making decisions about who to hire and fire,”” said Christopher E. Anders, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “”The Administration can sugar-coat it as much as it likes, but the idea has no traction in Congress.””

The White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives — the President’s task-force charged with lobbying Congress for his largely unsuccessful faith-based initiative — released today’s report in response to ongoing criticism of its mandate. The position paper clearly shows that the core goal of the President’s initiative is to repeal long-standing civil rights protections, originally put in place to combat racial and religious discrimination, to allow religious organizations to hire or fire based purely on religious criteria.

The ability to discriminate with taxpayer dollars made legislation that would have enacted much of the President’s program unviable in Congress. Similarly, although polls show few public concerns with faith-based social services per se, the American people are generally opposed to letting their tax dollars fund discrimination of any kind.

The ACLU said that the President’s inability to gain support for the discriminatory portion of his program has prompted the Faith-Based Office to force through many of its priorities through the federal regulatory process, which is often under-scrutinized by the public and the media.

The biggest policy shift – and arguably the clearest evidence of the initiative’s lack of public support – was the President’s December 12, 2002 executive order, which enacted unilaterally much of the faith-based legislation that he was unable to persuade Congress to adopt. The central provision in the new executive order actually repeals part of Executive Order 11246, which was enacted as one of the cornerstones of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Today’s report also fails to mention that many religious organizations – including Catholic Charities and the United Jewish Appeal – already successfully engage in charitable social services with federal grants, but do so in compliance with civil rights laws. In fact, the report contains a quote by an official at the Catholic Church explicitly saying that his publicly funded services don’t actually discriminate in their hiring. In reality, most religious groups that provide tax-payer funded services complain not about an inability to hire or fire co-religionists, but about lack of resources because of inadequate federal funding levels for social services.

“”Contrary to assertions by the President’s supporters, giving faith-based organizations the ability to discriminate in hiring with tax dollars would not fix the world,”” Anders said. “”Being able to hire or fire based on religious beliefs isn’t going to matter if the soup kitchen can’t afford soup.””

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