People For the American Way Foundation today joined an array of civil rights, educational and religious groups in calling on President George W. Bush to ensure that religious groups receiving federal funds to operate social service programs will be required to abide by employment discrimination laws. PFAWF also urged the Bush Administration to forgo unconstitutionally funding pervasively sectarian institutions.
"President Bush's new faith-based plan puts church and state on a direct collision course," said PFAWF President Ralph G. Neas. "We urge the president to consider constitutional methods to encourage religious groups' involvement in social service programs, such as tax proposals that provide incentives for all nonprofit groups to run such programs. Any new government arrangement with religious institutions to operate social service programs should also continue to require those religious groups to remain faithful to our nation's employment discrimination law."
Neas also said that putting the federal government in the position of picking between various religious entities to operate social service programs would produce even more problems.
"Forcing churches, synagogues and other religious institutions to compete for federal tax dollars would foster a hostile environment among different religious groups," Neas said. "The federal government should not put itself in the position of playing favorites among religious groups."
The Bush Administration's announced plans to enable religious institutions to receive federal tax dollars to run social service programs raises the likelihood that this government funding could end up supporting organizations that discriminate in hiring based on religious faith, directly violating the 1964 civil rights law that bars such discrimination. In the past, government support for faith-based groups was limited to social service providers such as Catholic Charities, which although religiously affiliated, do not have as their primary function promulgating the faith. This system protected both sides of the church-state wall by putting an arm's length between government funding and regulations and the church's observances of religious belief.
Under the Bush Administration plan, however, churches can, for the first time, receive tax dollars directly and would dispense social services right along with their religious messages. Under this new scenario, a religious institution using federal funds to operate a government program could seek to require an employee to adhere to religious tenets and teachings of the religious institution, in contravention of the 1964 civil rights law that bars employment discrimination based on religion.
The religious funding provisions advocated by the Bush administration also depart from current religious liberty jurisprudence by seeking to shift government-funded social service programs to pervasively sectarian religious institutions, such as houses of worship. Even though the Clinton Administration approved a version of "charitable choice," it maintained that government funds should not flow to pervasively sectarian institutions. PFAWF, as well as the other groups joining this coalition, are concerned that the First Amendment principle of separation of church and state would be undermined by allowing tax dollars to flow to pervasively sectarian institutions, such as Bob Jones University, for operation of social service programs.
Bush's call for these new arrangements between government and religious institutions could also undermine the religious freedom many pervasively sectarian institutions now enjoy. By forcing churches, synagogues and other religious institutions to compete for federal tax dollars would inevitably foster a hostile environment among different religious groups. Permitting the federal government to choose which religious organizations are best equipped to operate the selected social service program also promotes an unconstitutional entanglement of church and state.