Magazine article Church & State

Justice Department OKs Religious Bias in 'Faith-Based' Programs

Magazine article Church & State

Justice Department OKs Religious Bias in 'Faith-Based' Programs

Article excerpt

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has advised religious groups that they may accept tax dollars and still discriminate on the basis of religion when hiring staff.

In October, the Justice Department posted a notice on its Web site asserting that a 14-year-old law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects the right of houses of worship to limit hiring to members of their own faith even when accepting funds through the Bush administration's so-called "faith-based" initiative.

The controversial interpretation of the law is sure to escalate the ongoing debate over religious bias in tax-funded programs. Organizations like Americans United for Separation of Church and State assert that while religious groups have the right to discriminate in privately funded endeavors, they give that up when they take tax aid.

The move is seen as significant because other federal agencies are likely to follow the Justice Department's lead.

The Justice Department has already applied the new rules to one evangelical Christian group. Carl H. Esbeck, a supporter of faith-based initiatives, wrote a column for The Hill newspaper Oct. 30, reporting that the DOJ has agreed to let World Vision, an evangelical relief agency, hire and fire based on religion while spending $1.5 million in federal anti-gang funds.

Esbeck reports that the DOJ money comes through the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act and is subject to the explicit non-discrimination provisions of the Safe Streets Act. …

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