Salvation Army Promises, After $450,000 Settlement, to Eliminate Religious Discrimination in Taxpayer-Funded Work

The Salvation Army, whose volunteers you might see ringing bells over the holidays, is a primarily religious organization whose goal is to spread the Gospel. At the same time, they get government funds, to the tune of $188,000,000 in New York alone, to do social service work. As long as the two worlds don’t collide, there shouldn’t be a problem.

But more than a decade ago, that’s exactly what happened:

[Anne] Lown, who is Jewish, recalled on Tuesday that she had been overseeing the Salvation Army’s children’s services division in New York in 2003 when she was asked to have her employees fill out a form asking about their church attendance and their ministers’ names. The move coincided with a reorganization at the Salvation Army to more closely align the missions of its religious and social services wings.

“I felt it wasn’t right,” she said. “We were publicly funded, we were providing services on contract with New York City and State, and they were really imposing a religious test.”

Lown and Margaret Geissman filed a lawsuit against the organization in 2004 on behalf of several other former employees for that reason — adding that the Salvation Army was also proselytizing when they were supposed to be helping foster kids. While that last issue was settled in 2010, it wasn’t until last week that the initial complaint about the religious test got resolved in a settlement.

The Salvation Army won’t have to admit any wrongdoing, but they will have to pay $450,000 to Lown, Geissman, and their attorneys. More importantly, they have to promise to maintain a clear separation between their government work (non-discriminatory) and their religious mission work (discriminatory, natch):

The Salvation Army must also give both current and new employees who work on government-funded social services a document that says The Salvation Army abides by equal employment opportunity measures with respect to creed and sexual orientation. It also says The Salvation Army requires its lay employees to provide services to people consistent with sound social work practices, without regard to whether those practices conflict with The Salvation Army’s religious principles.

The document confirms that lay employees in government-funded programs are not required to participate in religious activities in the workplace, and states that The Salvation Army does not inquire, either orally or in writing, into the religious beliefs or practices of its employees and that it does not require anyone to profess adherence to The Salvation Army’s religious policies and principles. It does, however, require employees to conduct themselves in a manner consistent with The Salvation Army’s religious and charitable policies and principles, and not in a manner designed to undermine its religious mission.

Is it surprising to anyone that a religious organization would take advantage of its government funding? They do good work, no doubt, but this is a prime example of why faith-based organizations can’t always be trusted to follow the rules; their religious missions always seem to trump the law when the two are in conflict.

(Image via Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock.com)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.