For Immediate Release
Americans United Joins Broad Coalition of Groups Asking Obama to Reform ‘Faith-Based’ Initiative
AU’s Lynn Says President’s Remarks at Prayer Breakfast Give Wrong Impression That Bush Policy’s Constitutional and Civil Rights Flaws Have Been Fixed
WASHINGTON - Americans United for Separation of Church and State today joined 25 national religious and public policy organizations in a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to make major changes to the "faith-based" initiative.
The joint letter to the president lays out a specific set of
proposals to protect civil rights and religious liberty in federally
funded social services and urges Obama to adopt them. They include
banning employment discrimination based on religion in tax-funded
projects and issuing uniform guidelines to ensure that no person
seeking help in a publicly funded program is subjected to unwanted
In a speech today at the National Prayer Breakfast, Obama insisted
that his administration has "turned the faith-based initiative around."
In fact, leaders of civil rights, civil liberties and religious groups
say the president has failed to correct Bush-era policies.
"I was surprised and disappointed to hear President Obama suggest
that the faith-based initiative has somehow been ‘turned around,'" said
the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "In
fact, in all significant ways, the Obama faith-based initiative right
now is the same as the Bush faith-based initiative.
"The Bush rules and regulations are all still in place," Lynn
continued. "Administration officials have failed to safeguard the vital
constitutional boundary between church and state, and they have not
restored the damage to civil rights law."
The joint letter notes that Obama, as a candidate, promised to
reform the faith-based initiative - a concept first pioneered under the
administration of George W. Bush. Yet since taking office, Obama has
kept in place various rules and executive orders promulgated during the
Asserts the letter, "We urge you to act now to restore the
constitutionally required safeguards and civil rights protections
governing partnerships between government and religiously affiliated
institutions - standard operating procedures that had been largely in
place for decades prior to the creation of the Faith-Based Initiative."
Among specific recommendations, the letter asks the president to:
- Revoke a June 2007 legal memo issued by the Justice Department's
Office of Legal Counsel that asserts that a 1993 religious freedom law
gives religious groups the right to take tax funds and still
discriminate on religious grounds in hiring. This interpretation, the
joint letter asserts, is "erroneous and threatens core civil rights and
religious freedom protections."
- Issue policies making it clear that social-services providers must
give proper notice to beneficiaries of their religious liberty rights
and access to alternative secular providers.
- Require that houses of worship and other religious institutions
that infuse religion into every program create separate corporations
for the purpose of providing secular government-funded social services.
Aside from Americans United, groups signing the letter are: African
American Ministers in Action; American Association of University Women;
American Civil Liberties Union; American Humanist Association; American
Jewish Committee; Anti-Defamation League; Baptist Joint Committee for
Religious Liberty; B'nai B'rith International; Human Rights Campaign;
The Interfaith Alliance; Jewish Council for Public Affairs; National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People; National Gay and
Lesbian Task Force; OMB Watch; People For the American Way; Secular
Coalition for America; Texas Faith Network; Texas Freedom Network; The
Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Union for Reform
Judaism; Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations; United
Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society; United Sikhs;
and Women of Reform Judaism.
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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.