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Looking for Simple Answers to Basic Questions on Faith-Based Hiring

Dena Sher,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
Tyler Ray,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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December 7, 2011

It’s been almost three years of silence from President Obama on the issue of whether religious organizations may discriminate when hiring for government-funded positions. Let’s take a walk down memory lane to find out where we have been. In 2008, then-candidate Obama promised to restore anti-discrimination protections and end policies put in place by the previous administration that allow the federal government to subsidize employment discrimination on the basis of religion. If only. Instead, his administration decided that hiring discrimination will be reviewed on a “case-by-case” basis.

According to Joshua DuBois, Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, decisions under this “case-by-case” process are ultimately made by the president himself after a mysterious review that may involve federal agencies and high-ranking administration officials. Despite the high-level process DuBois has described, we have heard not one peep about any such reviews that have been conducted. In fact, aside from DuBois’s vague description, we don’t even know how it works.

Although any “case-by-case” review that would permit discrimination is indefensible, the ACLU and the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination are trying to get to the bottom of what the administration says it’s doing. We sent letters to all 13 (yes, 13!) faith-based offices across federal agencies asking basic questions that should be simple for these agencies to answer. Like, how does one ask for a review? What standards are used in the review? Is there even a review process?

If we were skeptical, we might think “case-by-case” is just another phrase for “defer and delay” despite knowing what is right.

It’s long past time for the administration to end hiring discrimination on the government’s dime. It’s also time we understand what the administration is doing about it. The curtain needs to be lifted when it comes to issues of religious discrimination.

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