ACLU And Coalition Ask Justice Department To Withdraw Religious Discrimination Memo

September 17, 2009 12:00 am

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Bush-Era OLC Memo Approves Of Hiring Discrimination By Federally Funded Groups

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union joined a broad coalition of religious, civil rights and health organizations today in signing a letter urging Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to withdraw an Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinion approving of religious discrimination in hiring by religious groups receiving federal funds to carry out federal programs.

The OLC opinion, issued in 2007 by the Bush administration, concludes that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), passed in 1993, provides religious organizations with a blanket exemption to anti-discrimination statutes that prohibit religious discrimination in certain federally funded programs. Although the opinion specifically applies only to the singular instance it analyzes, it has been used by several federal agencies to justify providing broad, sweeping exemptions to religious nondiscrimination provisions in civil rights laws for religious groups carrying out federally funded programs. The ACLU has repeatedly urged the Obama administration to withdraw the opinion.

The following can be attributed to Christopher Anders, Senior Legislative Counsel of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office:

“It is troubling that the Obama administration has still not withdrawn this legal memo, which is simply wrong in its conclusion that a religious group taking federal taxpayer funds does not have to comply with federal civil rights laws protecting job applicants from religious discrimination. No one should be denied a job in a federally funded program for failing a religious test, but that is exactly what this OLC opinion allows. There is no legitimate justification for the Justice Department to continue to provide a fabricated loophole for religious groups that want to take federal funds but do not want to comply with the same civil rights laws that apply to every other federally funded group. It is time for the Obama administration to withdraw this opinion, and enforce the nation’s civil rights laws as written.”

The coalition letter to Attorney General Eric Holder is available online at:

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