Will President Obama Miss the Chance to Stand Up for Church-State Separation?

Mosaic by Charis Tsevis Flickr/creative commons

Mosaic by Charis Tsevis
Flickr/creative commons

There is a portion of a 2007 presidential memo pertaining to the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that has been interpreted wrongly, distorted, as a safe harbor for legalized discrimination by tax-exempt faith-based organizations receiving federal funding.

(This memo comes from the same George W. Bush’s Office of Legal Counsel that brought us the memo making it okay to torture, by the way.)

Recently 130 organizations, including American Civil Liberties Union (aclu.org), Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (au.org), National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (avp.org), and AFSCME, sent President Obama a letter urging him to revise/revoke this part of RFRA, which states in part . . .

Contrary to the conclusion in the OLC Memo, RFRA is not a tool to categorically override statutory protections against religious hiring discrimination. Nor does it create an absolute free exercise right—without regard to countervailing compelling interests, as required by RFRA—to receive government grants without complying with applicable regulations that protect taxpayers and participants in federally funded programs.

 From Los Angeles Times . . .

“If faith-based agencies that receive federal funds must keep explicit religious appeals out of their social services, they also should be required not to discriminate in the hiring of those who engage in that work. Religious groups can fairly insist that their spiritual leaders and boards of directors must subscribe to the faith, but if a church-affiliated soup kitchen can’t proselytize, it makes no sense for it to be allowed to use government funds to hire only cooks who are believers.

Now that President Obama is in his final stretch, even referring openly to religious rightwing politicians as “crazies,” what is holding him back from rectifying this wrong that has caused so much pain for so many innocent people?

You can call or write President Obama to add your voice to correcting this very bad situation.


The entire letter and its signatories can be found here.



Alison Gardner