White House Must Reform Faith-Based Initiative, Says ACLU

February 5, 2010 2:42 pm

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Faith-Based Office Continues To Raise Civil Liberties Concerns

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WASHINGTON – One year after the formation of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, the American Civil Liberties Union joins a broad coalition of religious, education, civil rights, labor and health organizations in urging the Obama administration to reform its “faith-based initiative.” As part of this initiative, the government provides federal funds to religious organizations that engage in religious discrimination and do not separate their religious content from their social service work.

In a letter sent to the White House Thursday, the ACLU and 25 other religious and public interest groups called on the administration to protect civil rights and religious liberty while carrying out federally-funded social service programs.

Over the past year, the Obama administration has taken steps in the wrong direction, creating a federal advisory committee made up of religious leaders that has often operated in secret, and increasing federal funding for religious organizations without changing discriminatory, Bush-era hiring practices. The ACLU and its coalition partners have identified specific steps to ensure the protection of civil rights and religious liberties endangered by current policies, including prohibiting religious organizations from discriminating in hiring on the basis of religion within federally-funded social welfare programs. The coalition is also asking the administration to address concerns regarding transparency and to ensure program beneficiaries are protected from unwanted proselytizing or religious activities.

The following can be attributed to Christopher Anders, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel:

“While the current administration inherited deeply flawed faith-based policies from the Bush administration, it is very troubling that a year later, those policies are still in effect. Not even one word of the Bush-era faith-based initiative has changed. The current White House also created an often secretive government advisory committee that includes clergy who have a clear financial stake in the continuation of Bush-era policies. It’s time the administration clearly defines the line between religion and government and corrects the bad policies it inherited. The government has no business using taxpayer dollars to fund religious discrimination by religious organizations that are unwilling to play by the same rules that apply to everyone else providing federal services to Americans in need.”

A copy of the coalition letter to the White House is available at: www.aclu.org/religion-belief/coalition-letter-president-obama-reform-faith-based-office

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