Groups Fight For Religious Freedom
Special Report - August 31, 2010
Faced with increasing attacks from left-wing groups and their allies, the leaders of over 100 Protestant, Jewish and Catholic religious charities and organizations have added their signatures to a letter to Congress in which they defend the constitutional rights of faith-based groups to make hiring decisions based on religious beliefs. The letter, which was distributed to every member of the U.S. House and Senate on August 25, urges Congress “to oppose any effort to amend the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (‘RFRA’), to amend Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, or otherwise to dilute the right of faith-based social service organizations to stay faith-based through their hiring, including when awarded a federal grant.”
The letter is a response to efforts by secular groups, such as Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, to convince the federal government to further restrict the hiring and firing policies of faith-based groups that accept federal funding, including calls to Congress to outlaw religious hiring exemptions for faith-based charities in a continuing budget resolution. These attacks include pending legislation that the signers of the letter believe would “deny religious charities receiving federal grants their fundamental right to hire people who share their faith.” The legislation in question is H.R. 5466-Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Modernization Act of 2010, which is sponsored by Representative Patrick J. Kennedy (D-Rhode Island), and is currently in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce with only one cosponsor. According to the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, whose president and founder, Stanley Carlson-Thies, signed the letter, H.R. 5466 includes language that would place a “ban on religious hiring in federally funded drug treatment and mental health programs.”
The letter explains that, “several years ago the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel concluded that RFRA can sometimes provide to a faith-based grantee an exemption permitting it to consider religion when hiring (but not in who it serves). This accommodation of religious autonomy is provided only to those religious charities that can show that it would substantially burden their religious freedom to have to drop their religious hiring policy in order to receive a federal grant.” It continues, “The law has affirmed this right for decades (arguably longer, since the ratification of the First Amendment to our Constitution). We respectfully ask you to uphold and protect this fundamental right, allowing faith-based charities to be treated equally as secular groups when competing for federal funds and to hire employees who share their faith, whether Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, or Christian…We intend to continue working effectively with government in a constitutionally-sound and proven manner, but only if we can stay faith-based in mission, which means remaining faith-based in those we hire.”
The letter was signed by over 100 leaders from a wide variety of faith-based organizations, including: World Vision, Focus on the Family, Care Net, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Prison Fellowship, The Salvation Army, USA, Samaritan’s Purse, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, USA, Upward Sports, and Teen Challenge, among others, including a large number of religious universities and colleges. Many of the organizations whose leaders signed the letter do not accept federal funding.
“Too much is at stakeespecially among the tens of millions who receive help, care and support from faith-based charities,” said Richard Stearns, president and CEO of World Vision, in a statement. “For decades, we have relied on and benefited from religious charities receiving federal grants. There is no good reasonnor a compelling legal justificationto jeopardize those organizations and, more importantly, the people they serve.” In a related case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently upheld World Vision’s right to consider religious beliefs in their hiring and firing practices in a 2 to 1 ruling issued August 23. The case involved a lawsuit against the organization brought by three fired employees, who argued that World Vision is a humanitarian organization, not a religious one. The majority of the appeals court disagreed, ruling that World Vision qualifies as a religious organization and is protected under the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Freedom Of Religion Statement Issued - January 20, 2010
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