WASHINGTON (ABP) –Fifty-six groups, including the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, sent a sharply-worded letter Sept. 19 asking President Obama to clarify remarks he made this summer about employment discrimination by faith-based groups receiving taxpayer funding.
While running for president in 2008, Obama said, “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 their religion."
Asked at a town hall meeting July 22 in College Park, Md., why he did not keep his promise to ban religious discrimination in taxpayer-funded programs operated by religious agencies, however, the president said religious organizations have “more leeway” to “hire somebody who is a believer of that particular faith.”
“The question here is simple: Has the president changed his position on subsidizing religious discrimination with tax funds?” said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, part of the coalition.
In addition to his recent comments, the letter expressed disappointment with the administration’s inaction on Bush-era policies that permit discrimination by faith-based groups receiving taxpayer money to provide social services.
The groups said they appreciated Obama’s 2008 campaign statement in Zanesville, Ohio, and looked forward after his election to prompt reform of the faith-based initiative. That optimism “has turned to disappointment,” they said, as they watched the president miss several opportunities to address “troubling” discrimination policies adopted by the previous administration.
“Mr. President, we have been patiently waiting,” the coalition said. “If you have reversed your policy position on the issue of government-funded religious discrimination, we need to know that. If not, we would ask you to take concrete steps to fulfill the commitment you made in 2008 in Zanesville.”
Other signers of the letter included the American Civil Liberties Union, Anti-Defamation League, Human Rights Campaign, Muslim Advocates, National Organization for Women, PFLAG, Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Secular Coalition for America and United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society.
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.