Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Potential Changes to Funding Available to Religious Charities

The Washington Post reported that nearly 60 groups concerned with civil rights, labor, health and education urged Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. last Thursday to renounce a Bush-era memo allowing religious charities that receive federal grant money to discriminate in hiring.

The 2007 memo by the Bush Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel permits the government to bypass laws against giving taxpayer money to groups that refuse to employ people of other faiths.  The Bush administration had first asked Congress to change the anti-discrimination restrictions as part of its so-called “faith-based” initiative.  The memo was published in response to Congressional pushback.

The New York Times reports that the memo said government officials could choose to disregard such restrictions because of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That Act permits some exceptions to federal laws if obeying them would impose a “substantial burden” on people’s ability to freely exercise their religion. The memo argues that the Act can override statutes that require recipients of taxpayer aid not to discriminate with that money.  In accordance with the memo, for example, the Christian charity, WorldVision to receive a $1.5 million grant to prevent juvenile delinquency.  The civil rights groups argue that the memo jeopardizes civil rights and religious liberty.  WorldVision responds that interference with its hiring practices will damage its identity and its mission. 


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