A group of organizations that support religious liberty sent a letter (PDF) to Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday. The coalition includes the American Humanist Association, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, American Civil Liberties Union, Interfaith Alliance, Center for Inquiry, and the Secular Coalition for America.
The issue at hand is an Office of Legal Counsel memo from 2007 that states the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (“RFRA”) allows for religious discrimination.
The coalition says the memo was wrong, adding that it “threatens core civil rights and religious freedom protections.”
The OLC Memo wrongly asserts that RFRA is “reasonably construed” to require that a federal agency categorically exempt a religious organization from an explicit federal nondiscrimination provision tied to a grant program. Although the OLC Memo’s conclusion is focused on one Justice Department program, its overly-broad and questionable interpretation of RFRA has been cited by other Federal agencies and extended to other programs and grants. The guidance in the OLC Memo is not justified under applicable legal standards and threatens to tilt policy toward an unwarranted end that would damage civil rights and religious liberty.
The OLC Memo… stands as one of the most notable examples of the Bush Administration’s attempt to impose a constitutionally questionable and unwise policy — RFRA should not be interpreted or employed as a tool for broadly overriding statutory protections against religious discrimination or to create a broad free exercise right to receive government grants without complying with applicable regulations that protect taxpayers.
Of course, this group is right. You can’t give federal money to religious groups and then allow them to fire gays, atheists, and anyone else they deem unworthy. If they accept the money, they need to abide by the law, and the law doesn’t allow for that type of discrimination.
Will the administration pay any attention? Obama’s track record on progressives’ issues hasn’t been what I had hoped it would be. But these organizations represent a huge segment of the people who voted for him — liberals are members or supporters of many of the groups on this list.
In any case, it is very cool to see so many organizations working together on this shared agenda item. The more we can stick together, the more affect we’ll have on the political process.