Center for Inquiry Continues to Push President Obama on Federally Funded Discrimination

September 21, 2011

As you might recall, the Center for Inquiry (CFI) joined dozens of organizations on June 21, 2011 in asking President Barack Obama to issue an executive order that would close a loophole allowing religious organizations to discriminate against federally funded employees on the basis of religion.

Our letter (download here) reminded Obama of a pledge he made while campaigning in Zanesville, Ohio, on July 1, 2008. At the time, 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.”

Since taking office, Obama has failed to make this change, which would reverse a 2002 executive order by President George W. Bush. Obama has indicated that the Department of Justice is examining the matter, but nothing has happened.

Obama and his administration did not formally reply to the June letter. However, after the month of silence, Obama was pressed on the subject at a town hall meeting in College Park, Md., on July 22, 2011. Unfortunately, his answer only served to further cloud his position. In part, Obama said that “I think we’ve struck the right balance so far,” and that religious organizations should have “more leeway” to “hire somebody who is a believer of that particular faith.”

In response to Obama’s concerning reply, CFI has joined with a coalition of 55 religious, education, civil rights, and health organizations to again write Obama over shared concerns on his approach to this issue. 

In a letter (download here) dated Sept. 19, 2011, the coalition wrote: 

Your statement suggested that you may now support allowing religious organizations to hire and fire based upon religion in federally funded positions. This would flatly contradict your 2008 campaign promise to end such discrimination. Your recent statement, combined with the Administration’s failure to take concrete steps thus far to restore anti-discrimination protections, causes us great disappointment. We write, therefore, to ask that you clarify your July 22 remarks and take steps to fulfill your commitment to end federally funded employment discrimination.

Mr. President, we have been patiently waiting. 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.

The letter goes on to detail various instances where Obama has failed to end federally funded hiring discrimination. The goal of the letter is, at the least, to secure a meeting with White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler to further explore the issue. We will let you know if we hear anything.  

In addition to CFI, signers of the letter include: Council for Secular Humanism, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Secular Coalition for America, African American Ministers in Action, American Association of University Women, American Civil Liberties Union, Anti-Defamation League, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Human Rights Campaign, Muslim Advocates, National Organization for Women, PFLAG, and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.