CFI Among 90 Groups Urging White House to Close Loophole Allowing Taxpayer-Funded Discrimination

June 11, 2014

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) was among 90 organizations to sign a letter sent this week to U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder calling for the end to a legal loophole that allows faith-based groups to accept taxpayer funding to provide social services, yet still discriminate on religious grounds when hiring staff.

The loophole stems from a 2007 memo issued by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) under then-President George W. Bush. According to that memo, faith-based groups do not have to comply with certain non-discrimination provisions even though they are funded by the government. We argue that the memo misinterprets the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to permit unlawful religion-based discrimination by publicly funded religious groups.

Although the memo has been in place for years, it is particularly relevant now because the Administration recently announced that it is using it to override the non-discrimination provision in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which Congress adopted last year. As we write:

After significant debate, Congress passed a bill that barred organizations from engaging in employment discrimination with VAWA funds. But, because the OLC Memo remains administration policy, the explicit intent of Congress is being ignored, and the administration is granting exemptions from this non-discrimination provision to religious organizations that wish to use religion as a criterion when hiring employees using taxpayer dollars. ...

The use of the OLC Memo to trump the recently adopted non-discrimination provision in VAWA demonstrates that its harm is more than speculative. We accordingly request that the administration publicly announce its intention to review the OLC Memo and, at the end of that review, withdraw the OLC Memo and expressly disavow its erroneous interpretation of RFRA. 

The letter, which was signed by a diverse coalition of religious, secular education, civil rights, labor, LGBT, women’s, and health organizations, echoes past letter sent to Holder in 2009, and to the White House in 2013.