New York, NY, September 17, 2009
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has joined with the nation's leading religious, civil rights, labor, health and education groups in calling on Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. to withdraw a "constitutionally questionable" policy that could exempt certain religious organizations from federal anti-discrimination provisions.
The League helped to coordinate a letter, signed by 58 national organizations and released today, urging the attorney general to direct the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel to "review and withdraw" a June 2007 memo that held the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 could be broadly construed for groups receiving funds under the faith-based initiative, the federal program that provides grants to religious groups for social and community service.
"We remain deeply troubled by President Obama's faith-based initiative," said Glen S. Lewy, ADL National Chair and Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "The president made it clear during his campaign that the Bush Administration's faith-based initiative lacked essential safeguards against proselytizing. It is disappointing that he has not yet acted on his very clear commitments to ensure that grant money will not be used to proselytize or to discriminate against others on the basis of their religious beliefs.
"We hope this letter from 58 leading national groups will spark a sense of urgency within the Justice Department and the administration to modify existing law and establish necessary constitutional and anti-discrimination safeguards for the faith-based initiative," they added.
The coalition's letter called the conclusions of the June 2007 memo "erroneous" and a threat to "core civil rights and religious freedom protections," saying it was one of the most notable examples of the previous administration's attempt to impose a "constitutionally questionable and unwise policy."
In a campaign speech on faith-based initiatives in July 2008, President Obama made clear that he would ensure that under the program, "
if you get a federal grant, you can't use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can't discriminate against them or against the people you hire on the basis of their religion."
In February 2009, the League wrote to President Obama, raising concerns about the lack of safeguards in the faith-based initiative against unwelcome proselytizing and calling for "presidential leadership against employment discrimination by faith-based grant recipients."