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Obama Administration Can't Make the Case for Religious Discrimination

Dena Sher,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
Elayne Weiss,
Washington Legislative Office
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July 18, 2011

What a disappointing, and frankly lame, response. Last month, the ACLU, along with more than 50 organizations, sent a letter to President Obama urging him to end taxpayer-funded hiring discrimination based on religion in government contracts. President George W. Bush had rolled back this civil rights protection, which was first established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1941. President Obama promised to change this policy, but so far nothing. Thus, the coalition wrote to the president to again ask him to restore the civil rights protection.

But the only response we got from the White House was the one we always get: “The Justice Department continues to examine this issue on a case-by-case basis.”

First of all, really? “Case-by-case-basis”? Religious discrimination should never be acceptable in any case when an organization hires employees for taxpayer-funded positions. Recognizing this awkward position, the Attorney General Eric Holder recently explained, “We don’t want to be in a position where people are in fact getting federal grants and discriminating,” continuing, “We don’t want to do that. We try not to do that but…”

And second, what is the Justice Department actually doing? Over the years, Members of Congress have asked Justice Department officials over and over again about this alleged review. We finally got some answers, and it seems not much. In a May congressional hearing, Holder said that a Bush-era legal memo purporting to allow government-funded employment discrimination was not under review.

And then in a June hearing, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) questioned Tom Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division whether the Division was involved in the review of the Bush-era policies. He said, “We are not leading that effort in the [Justice] Department. Other components are involved in that. . . . I don’t recall who is leading that effort right now, but it’s not the Civil Rights Division.” So, if the Civil Rights Division, whom we entrust to protect us from this very form of discrimination, is not leading the effort, it begs the question: who is?

This “review” has been going on since February 2009 and we have seen no progress. It’s time to take action. Tell President Obama to do just that and end taxpayer-funded employment discrimination.

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