Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act Bars Federally Funded Religious Discrimination

March 4, 2013

After almost one year of political wrangling, Congress last week reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a piece of legislation that provides both communities and people essential resources to help combat domestic abuse, sexual assault, and stalking.
The reauthorization of VAWA was an important victory in the fight against domestic violence, and the fight for LGBT equality*. But it was also an important victory in the fight to protect separation of church and state. 
The central reason Congress took so long to reauthorize VAWA is that the Democrat-controlled Senate and Republican-controlled House of Representatives disagreed over a number of provisions. Some of these provisions were designed to ensure greater access to services for LGBT victims, American Indians, and illegal immigrants. The Senate version of the bill included these provisions; the House version did not. 

The Senate and House also disagreed over a "nondiscrimination clause," designed to bar groups that receive federal funds through VAWA from discriminating based on, among other things, religion. This clause read:


(A) NONDISCRIMINATION.—No person in  the United States shall, on the basis of actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity (as defined in paragraph 249(c)(4) of title 18, United States 13 Code), sexual orientation, or disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity funded in whole or in part with funds made available under the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (title IV of 19 Public Law 103–322; 108 Stat. 1902), the Violence Against Women Act of 2000 (division B of Public Law 106–386; 114 Stat. 1491), the Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005 (title IX of Public Law 09–162; 119 Stat. 3080), the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, and any other program or activity funded in whole or in part with funds appropriated for grants, cooperative agreements, and other assistance administered by the Office on Violence Against Women.


Again, the Senate version of the bill included this provision; the House version did not. So you can probably imagine that groups which support separation of church and state were worried in regards to how the final VAWA reauthorization bill would look. 

As such, when the House scheduled a final vote last week, 60 religious, education, civil rights, and women's rights groups -- including the Center for Inquiry -- urged House members to reject any amendments that would weaken or remove the nondiscrimination language.

Fortunately, when the vote came down, the House approved the full Senate version of the bill. Which, as I said, meant a victory on several fronts: the fight against domestic violence, the fight for LGBT equality*, and the fight to protect separation of church and state. 

For once, it seems we can give Congress a round of applause.
* I learned after writing this post, via the Human Rights Campaign, that VAWA represents "the first time that any federal non-discrimination provisions include the LGBT community."
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#1 tudza on Monday March 04, 2013 at 5:42pm

Hold your applause. It depends on how the funds are used.  According to one lawyer I spoke to while trying to find representation for my daughter who was arrested for domestic violence even though she had no relation to any parties involved, local law enforcement gets over zealous trying to justify the monies and ends up making many mistakes.

The question then is do the benefits outweigh the mistaken arrests and poor treatment of suspects.

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