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Waiting for the End of Taxpayer-Funded Hiring Discrimination

Dena Sher,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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May 20, 2011

On July 1, 2008, on the campaign trail in Zanesville, Ohio, then-candidate Barack Obama promised to end hiring discrimination based on religion by organizations — such as the Salvation Army and World Vision — that receive government funding to provide social services. He declared, “If you get a federal grant, you can’t…discriminate against…the people you hire…on the basis of their religion.” In other words, no one should be disqualified from a taxpayer-funded job to help others because he or she doesn’t pass a religious test.

Obama’s statement was a clear rejection of these policies, leftovers of the Bush administration. But as we all know, actions speak louder than words.

The Obama administration has not yet taken action to reverse the harmful Bush-era policies still in place that permit hiring discrimination on the basis of religion in taxpayer-funded jobs. Instead, we’ve seen delay. An Obama executive order did not end the policies; rather it called for a legal review of the issue. This was baffling because candidate Obama seemed to have already concluded that taxpayer-funded job discrimination was wrong. Statements made by an administration official didn’t make us feel any better; it seemed that this review was simply a way to avoid taking action. He said that “it was impossible to give a timeline” for making the promised changes and that the administration “doesn’t have an interest in rushing” its review.

In response, the ACLU (with 57 other organizations) urged the administration to reverse one of the Bush-era policies permitting taxpayer-funded hiring discrimination. The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times also called for the Obama administration to keep the promise and end this policy.

More than 18 months later, we finally heard an answer from the administration at a recent congressional hearing. Rep. Bobby Scott, a vocal critic of permitting taxpayer-funded hiring discrimination, questioned Attorney General Eric Holder, who responded (very disappointingly) that the policy was not under review. We don’t think anyone would suggest the administration was “rushing” when it hasn’t even started.

On Tuesday, one of the architects of these Bush-era policies, Stanley Carlson-Thies, reported that he was very pleased with the current administration’s continued inaction. He also accused the ACLU of “badgering” the Obama administration to end these policies. Yes, it’s true. We have badgered and will continue to badger. Taxpayer-funded job discrimination is wrong and it must stop.

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