A coalition of religious, civil rights, labor, secular, and women’s advocacy groups, including People For the American Way, sent a letter to thirteen federal agencies last week asking them to explain the process by which they review the legality of religious discrimination by grant recipients in federally funded programs.
President George W. Bush’s faith-based initiative opened a gaping hole in our nation’s civil rights protections. Through a wholesale reinterpretation of federal law, the Bush administration declared that employment discrimination on the basis of religion by faith-based organizations using federal taxpayer money was legal. As a candidate, President Obama promised to prohibit this federally funded discrimination. However, his administration has instead stated it would take a “case-by-case” approach to the issue. Three years into his term, we still have no indication of what that “case-by-case” approach looks like.
The Coalition Against Religious Discrimination, an alliance of dozens of groups dedicated to supporting religious liberty, asked agencies distributing faith-based funds to make public their process for evaluating discrimination in federally funded jobs by faith-based programs. The letter asks the agencies to explain:
(1) What is the process for how your agency begins the “case-by-case” review of an organization that seeks to discriminate on the basis of religion with federal funds? Is there a process for a person who suspects federally funded religious discrimination is taking place to report a potential violation? To whom would they report? How are individuals informed of this process? Is there an appeal process? How are grants or contracts to these organizations handled during the review process?
(2) What offices and components of your agency are involved in the “case-by-case” analysis and what are their roles in the review?
(3) Utilizing a “case-by-case” analysis requires that the Administration have a set standard that applies to each case. What principles and criteria does your agency apply when developing a case for the White House Counsel, Department of Justice, and the President to review?
(4) If there have, in fact, been cases forwarded from your agency for review under this mechanism, (a) how many have there been; (b) what were the facts of those cases; and (c) what was the decision reached in each case? Have there been any cases reported to or reviewed by your agency that were not forwarded under this mechanism?
Letters were sent to the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Justice, the Department of Labor, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Small Business Administration and the United States Agency for International Development.