Three Years After Obama’s Pledge, Taxpayers Still Funding Religious Discrimination

At a standing room-only press conference in a U.S. House office building yesterday, members of Congress joined representatives from the Secular Coalition for America and dozens of other civil rights organizations in urging President Obama to fulfill the promise he made nearly three years ago to end the Bush-era policy that allows religious organizations receiving federal funds to discriminate in employment on the basis of faith.

Under the current policy, established by an executive order by President George W. Bush in 2002, scores of qualified people, such as Saad Mohammad Ali, an Iraqi refugee who served as an interpreter for the U.S. government and came to the U.S. in 2008, have been denied employment because they practiced the wrong religion.

According to the Seattle Times, in 2010 Ali “was told he would not be considered for [a position as an Arabic-speaking caseworker] because he is a Muslim,” not a Christian. Even though World Relief, the agency that rejected Ali, received up to 70 percent of its $32 million budget that year from taxpayer sources, it was completely legal for them to discriminate.

When he ran for president, Obama vowed to stop taxpayer funding of such blatant discrimination, telling a crowd in Zanesville, Ohio in July 2008, “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 religion.”  To keep this promise, all Obama needs to do is sign an executive order reversing the Bush policy.

More than two years into Obama’s presidency, however, this discriminatory practice is still in place, and many religious organizations are hoping it stays that way: In August 2010, more than 100 groups sent members of Congress a letter asking them to oppose any laws that would stop their ability to discriminate and only “hire employees who share their faith.” A White House spokesperson said yesterday that the Justice Department "continues to review this issue on a case-by-case basis," which numerous speakers yesterday decried as no real protection at all.

To combat this influence, more than 50 organizations, including SCA, yesterday sent Obama a letter urging him keep his promise to stop awarding taxpayer dollars to religious groups that discriminate, and we were happily joined by four members of Congress at a press conference led by Rep. Robert “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.), pictured below with SCA Executive Director Sean Faircloth, to make the case in force.

SCA Executive Director Sean Faircloth with U.S. Rep. Robert "Bobby" Scott (D-Va.)

While many of the attendees represented religious groups and religious minorities, SCA staff made sure to include nontheists in the conversation.  SCA Government Relations Manager Amanda Knief specifically reminded everyone present that, in many instances, it is people without religion who face the greatest level of discrimination and stigmatization in the workplace.
You can send your own letter to President Obama through SCA’s Action Alert system here, and watch the below video SCA made about this issue last year, on the second anniversary of Obama’s campaign pledge in Zanesville.

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