Tuesday, March 18, 2014
The New York Times reports today that The Salvation Army has finally resolved the lawsuit accusing it of religious discrimination. The title of this post comes from the article, which states:
The Salvation Army on Tuesday settled a decade-old lawsuit that charged it with engaging in religious discrimination by requiring its government-funded social service employees to reveal their beliefs and to agree to act in accordance with the Christian gospel.
As part of the settlement, approved by a federal judge in Manhattan, the Salvation Army will distribute to its New York employees who work in programs that receive government financing a document stating that they need not adhere to the group’s religious principles while doing their jobs, nor may they be asked about their religious beliefs.
The Salvation Army, which is both an evangelical church and a charitable organization, will also pay $450,000 to settle claims by two former employees, Anne Lown and Margaret Geissman, that they were pushed out of their jobs in retaliation for their objections to the group’s policies.
The group, which administers millions of dollars in government contracts to run homeless shelters, soup kitchens, after-school programs and day care centers in the New York area, did not admit wrongdoing as part of the settlement.
The church said in a statement that it welcomed the settlement, and that the document it is now required to distribute was merely “confirmation in writing of policies long followed by its Greater New York Division,” rather than an assertion of anything new.
Ms. Lown, who is Jewish, recalled on Tuesday that she had been overseeing the Salvation Army’s children’s services division in New York in 2003 when she was asked to have her employees fill out a form asking about their church attendance and their ministers’ names. The move coincided with a reorganization at the Salvation Army to more closely align the missions of its religious and social services wings.
“I felt it wasn’t right,” she said. “We were publicly funded, we were providing services on contract with New York City and State, and they were really imposing a religious test.”
The lawsuit, filed in 2004 on behalf of 18 former and current employees, also charged that the Salvation Army was proselytizing while delivering services to vulnerable populations, like foster children. Much of the case was dismissed in 2005, and in 2010, another part of the case was settled when several state and city agencies agreed to audit the Salvation Army for two years to make sure it did not cross the church-state line in its delivery of services.
The auditing protocol established by the case is now in use with other faith-based providers, to make sure that they are not proselytizing during their work with the poor and needy, said Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.