For Immediate Release
Church-State Watchdog Group Urges Obama To Keep Promise To Fix 'Faith-Based' Initiative
WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama should honor his pledge to reform the
“faith-based” initiative by banning job discrimination in tax-funded
programs and making it clear that public funds cannot support
proselytizing, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
In a letter
sent to Obama today, Americans United urged the president to reverse
Bush-era faith-based policies that remain in effect today and follow
through on reforms he proposed when he was a candidate.
“We’ve waited long enough,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans
United executive director. “The faith-based initiative has serious
constitutional defects, and it’s time for a fix. Billions of federal
tax dollars are going out the door without adequate religious liberty
and civil rights safeguards.”
In a July 1, 2008, speech in Zanesville, Ohio, Obama promised to end
Bush administration policies that allowed publicly funded faith-based
social services to proselytize and discriminate in hiring on religious
In that speech, Obama said, “[I]f you get a federal grant, you can’t
use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you
can’t discriminate against them – or against the people you hire – on
the basis of their religion. Second, federal dollars that go directly
to churches, temples, and mosques can only be used on secular programs.”
AU’s letter asserts that Obama was on the right track and asserts he should make good on those promises.
The letter calls on Obama to issue an executive order reversing a
Bush-era policy allowing employment discrimination in publicly funded
programs and revoke a June 29, 2007, Office of Legal Counsel Memorandum
that interpreted a federal religious freedom law to permit
“faith-based” providers to engage in religious discrimination even
where the statute authorizing the funding explicitly prohibits such
“As a consequence of inaction, the administration’s current policy
is to allow religious organizations to take government funds and use
those funds to discriminate in hiring against a qualified individual
based on nothing more than his or her religious beliefs,” observes the
AU letter. “This constitutes an appalling rollback of the civil rights
protections that were first put in place under the administration of
President Franklin D. Roosevelt.”
The letter goes on to say, “I am also deeply disappointed that no
executive order has been issued clearly barring the awarding of any
public funds to groups that proselytize.”
AU’s letter points out that the organization wrote to the U.S.
Department of Justice in June about nine federal grants being made to
religious groups. Four of them were to Teen Challenge affiliates in New
York, Indiana, Minnesota and Pennsylvania – a group known for its
hiring bias and aggressive religious indoctrination.
The DOJ’s response was anemic, saying only that each grant applicant
had been scrutinized by the Bush administration to make sure the funds
are being used in a way that comports with constitutional requirements.
“I am amazed that the DOJ has taken this view when there is ample
evidence that the previous administration often failed to meet its
monitoring responsibilities,” writes Lynn in the letter.
Concludes the AU letter, “In your Zanesville speech, you asserted
that ‘as someone who used to teach constitutional law, I believe deeply
in the separation of church and state.’ Mr. President, it is time to
uphold that principle and keep your promise to correct the glaring
deficiencies in the faith-based funding arena. I urge you to take
immediate action to restore critical civil rights protections and vital
religious freedom safeguards to your faith-based initiative.”
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.