Coalition Irked by Obama Support for Faith-Based Hiring

President Obama received a letter Monday from a coalition of organizations complaining that he is backsliding on his campaign promise to target faith-based discrimination in federally-funded jobs.

The coalition of 56 groups, led by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, expressed “deep concern” about remarks the president made two months ago at a Town Hall meeting in College Park, Md.

In response to a question concerning the employment practices of faith-based organizations receiving federal tax dollars, Obama said such employers have “more leeway” to “hire somebody who is a believer of that particular faith.”

The coalition complains that the president’s response is contrary to the position he espoused in July 2008 while stumping for the White House.

“If you get a federal grant,” Obama said at the time, “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.”

On its website, the ACLU said that the coalition is “seeking clarity” from the White House on where the president stands.

Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, was more pointed. “The question here is simple,” he said. “Has the president changed his position on subsidizing religious discrimination with tax funds?”

The coalition also is peeved with Obama, their letter states, for failing to “to take steps to overturn or otherwise address the troubling hiring discrimination policies adapted” by the Bush administration.

They point to the administration’s non-response to a request this past summer from 52 organizations – many of which are part of the coalition that sent Monday’s letter to the president – that Obama restore an executive order barring federal contracts from funding jobs in which religion is a hiring factor.

The coalition is hoping to get a meeting with White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler to further explore the issues it raised Monday. While such a meeting might take place, it is unlikely to result in the executive order the coalition seeks.

Not the least because the coalition is seeking to overturn nearly a half-century of settled law, dating back the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which clarified under Title VII that religious organizations are permitted to hire according to their faith.

In 1987, the U.S. Supreme unanimously ruled that religious hiring rights do not violate the First Amendment proscription of government-sponsored religion. And, in August 2010, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that World Vision, the Christian humanitarian organization, did not discriminate when it fired three employees who did not share the organization’s belief in the deity of Jesus Christ.

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