Thursday, June 12, 2014

Groups Ask Holder To Withdraw Memo Allowing Religious Hiring Preferences In Federal Grant Programs

This week, 90 religious, educational, civil rights, labor, LGBT, women’s, and health groups signed a joint letter (full text) to Attorney General Eric Holder asking that the Office of Legal Counsel withdraw the Bush Administration's June 29,  2007 memo allowing faith-based organization that receive federal grant funds to give a preference to co-religionists in hiring. That memo concluded that RFRA overrides the religious anti-discrimination provisions of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (see prior posting). However, according this week's joint letter, the OLC memo has been applied to other grant programs as well, including most recently to grants under the Violence Against Women Act.  A Department of Justice  Frequently Asked Questions memo dated April 9, 2014 says that the non-discrimination grant provision in the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 does not apply to hiring of co-religionists by faith-based organizations where the funded program is an exercise of religion, foregoing a religious preference in hiring would be a substantial burden, and the funding agency cannot show a compelling interest furthered by the least restrictive means.  This week's letter argues:
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.
[Thanks to Michael Lieberman for the lead.]