Salvation Army Case Has Important Implications for Faith-Based Initiative » ADL Blogs
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March 25, 2014 Off

Salvation Army Case Has Important Implications for Faith-Based Initiative

the-salvation-army-logoThe New York Civil Lib­er­ties Union (NYCLU) recently obtained a favor­able set­tle­ment in a decades-old law­suit against the Sal­va­tion Army, which has impor­tant impli­ca­tions for the Faith-Based Ini­tia­tive.  This Ini­tia­tive, started under the Bush Admin­is­tra­tion, has con­tin­ued as the Office of Faith-Based and Com­mu­nity Part­ner­ships under the Obama Administration.

New York State pays the Sal­va­tion Army over $188 mil­lion to pro­vide social ser­vices to New York res­i­dents of all back­grounds.  And tax­pay­ers fund 300 Sal­va­tion Army employ­ees to pro­vide these ser­vices.   The Sal­va­tion Army is a church, but prior to 2003 it did not pro­mote its faith or dis­crim­i­nate on the basis of reli­gion in the organization’s government-funded pro­grams.  Start­ing in 2003, how­ever, it sought to require taxpayer-funded employ­ees “to iden­tify their church affil­i­a­tion and to adhere to the reli­gious mis­sion of The Sal­va­tion Army.”

The set­tle­ment of the case, enti­tled Lown v. The Sal­va­tion Army (U.S. Dist. Ct. SDNY), bars the Sal­va­tion Army from dis­crim­i­nat­ing on the basis of reli­gion against taxpayer-funded employ­ees or ben­e­fi­cia­ries of these publicly-funded social ser­vices.  In 2010, the NYCLU set­tled the por­tion of its case against gov­ern­ment agen­cies that had con­tracts with The Sal­va­tion Army.

Stand­ing alone, the set­tle­ment is an impor­tant civil rights vic­tory, but it has even more sig­nif­i­cant ram­i­fi­ca­tions for the future direc­tion of the Office of Faith-Based and Com­mu­nity Part­ner­ships.  This pro­gram requires that reli­gious insti­tu­tions, which infuse reli­gion into their oper­a­tions and pro­grams, be eli­gi­ble for bil­lions of dol­lars of fed­eral social ser­vices con­tracts and funding.

The Obama Admin­is­tra­tion has issued sig­nif­i­cant and mean­ing­ful con­sti­tu­tional safe­guards against use of tax­payer funds to pros­e­ly­tize or indoc­tri­nate ben­e­fi­cia­ries of federally-funded social ser­vices.  How­ever, despite a 2008 Pres­i­den­tial cam­paign promise that federally-funded, reli­gious social ser­vice providers would not be able to hire or fire for taxpayer-funded jobs on the basis of reli­gion, the Admin­is­tra­tion has not acted on that promise.   Publicly-funded sec­u­lar and religiously-affiliated social ser­vices providers are already pro­hib­ited from engag­ing in such discrimination.

Had the Lown case moved for­ward, it could have resulted in a trou­bling inter­pre­ta­tion of fed­eral anti-discrimination laws allow­ing reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions to dis­crim­i­nate on the basis of reli­gion for taxpayer-funded jobs.   The set­tle­ment pre­vented that harm­ful pos­si­bil­ity and it is a model of what the fed­eral gov­ern­ment should be requir­ing of any reli­gious social ser­vice con­trac­tor that takes pub­lic dollars.