The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Joe Conn or Rob Boston

Coalition of Organizations Asks Obama to Clarify Stand on Hiring Bias in 'Faith-Based' Initiative

President’s Recent Comments About Issue Have Sown Confusion, 56 Groups Say


Americans United for Separation of Church and State has joined a coalition of religious, education, civil rights, labor and health organizations in a letter to President Barack Obama expressing concern over his approach to hiring bias in the "faith-based" initiative.

The 56 groups decided to write after Obama discussed the issue during a town hall meeting in College Park, Md., July 22. They assert that his remarks have only served to cloud the issue.

"The question here is simple: Has the president changed his position on subsidizing religious discrimination with tax funds?" said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "If not, he should take action to restore civil rights protections in federally funded social services that were undercut during the Bush administration. Taxpayer dollars should never underwrite hiring bias."

During the July 22 event, Obama was asked why he did not ban religious discrimination in taxpayer-funded programs operated by religious agencies, as he promised to do when running for president in 2008.

Obama made the original pledge while campaigning in Zanesville, Ohio, on July 1, 2008. He told a crowd, "If 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."

But after taking office, Obama failed to make this change, indicating instead that the Department of Justice would examine the issue. Nothing has happened since then.

"Your recent statement, combined with the Administration's failure to take any concrete steps thus far to restore anti-discrimination protections, causes us great disappointment," wrote the groups. "We write, therefore, to ask that you clarify your July 22 remarks and take steps to fulfill your commitment to end federally funded employment discrimination."

During the College Park town hall event, Obama opined that religious organizations have "more leeway" to "hire somebody who is a believer of that particular faith."

Observed the groups in the letter to Obama, "We hope that this statement does not reflect a reversal of your commitment to end federally funded religious discrimination."

The letter went on to list a number of instances where Obama could have curbed hiring bias in these programs but did not do so.

Asserted the letter, "Mr. President, we have been patiently waiting. If you have reversed your policy position on the issue of government-funded religious discrimination, we need to know that. If not, we would ask you to take concrete steps to fulfill the commitment you made in 2008 in Zanesville."

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.