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August 8, 2016 Off

White House Combats Religious Discrimination

On July 22, the White House hosted a Reli­gious Dis­crim­i­na­tion Con­ven­ing – cul­mi­nat­ing six months of com­mu­nity round­ta­bles held across the coun­try to high­light and insti­tu­tion­al­ize strate­gies to address reli­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion.  Con­ven­ing atten­dees heard from a num­ber of fed­eral offi­cials, includ­ing Neil Eggle­ston, White House Coun­sel, Melissa Rogers, Faith-Based Office Exec­u­tive Direc­tor, Jenny Yang, Equal Employ­ment Oppor­tu­nity Com­mis­sion, and Cather­ine Lha­mon, Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion Assis­tant Sec­re­tary for Civil Rights.

The Anti-Defamation League’s Wash­ing­ton Coun­sel, Michael Lieber­man, rep­re­sented ADL on a panel on Pre­vent­ing Religion-Based Hate Vio­lence and Attacks on Houses of Worship.

(From left to right) John Walsh, US Attorney for Colorado Moderator;  Megan Mack, Department of Homeland Security; Robert Moossy, Department of Justice; Paul Montiero, Department of Justice; Michael Lieberman, Anti-Defamation League; Madihha Ahussain, Muslim Advocates.

(From left to right) John Walsh, US Attor­ney for Col­orado Mod­er­a­tor; Megan Mack, Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­rity; Robert Moossy, Depart­ment of Jus­tice; Paul Mon­tiero, Depart­ment of Jus­tice; Michael Lieber­man, Anti-Defamation League; Madi­hha Ahus­sain, Mus­lim Advocates.

A num­ber of new resources were unveiled at the event, including:

  • The Depart­ment of Jus­tice (DOJ) released an excel­lent new report on religion-based dis­crim­i­na­tion,  The report pre­sented find­ings from com­mu­nity round­ta­bles, includ­ing dis­turb­ing trends of religion-based dis­crim­i­na­tion in edu­ca­tion, employ­ment, hate crimes, and land use.  Impor­tantly, the report made a series of rec­om­men­da­tions to address these issues and includes a com­pre­hen­sive list­ing of fed­eral resources to address reli­gious discrimination.

 

DOJ has made fight­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion through the enforce­ment of the Reli­gious Land Use and Insti­tu­tion­al­ized Per­sons Act (RLUIPA) a pri­or­ity.  DOJ released an updated report on its enforce­ment of RLIUPA between 2010 and 2016.

  • The Depart­ment of Education’s Office of Civil Rights unveiled a new sec­tion of its web­site devoted to Reli­gious Dis­crim­i­na­tion.  The web­site aggre­gates rel­e­vant resources on bul­ly­ing pre­ven­tion and reli­gious harass­ment.  In 2015–2016, for the first time, every pub­lic school in the nation will report to OCR on the num­ber of religion-based bul­ly­ing or harass­ment inci­dents in schools through the OCR data col­lec­tion tool, Civil Rights Data Col­lec­tion. Though they have col­lected bul­ly­ing infor­ma­tion since 2009, this is the first year they are ask­ing for religious-based data.

In addi­tion, OCR unveiled a revised online com­plaint form to clar­ify when it can inves­ti­gate com­plaints from indi­vid­u­als who believe they have expe­ri­enced racial, eth­nic, or national ori­gin dis­crim­i­na­tion involv­ing their religion.

  • The U.S. Equal Employ­ment Oppor­tu­nity Com­mis­sion (EEOC) announced it will col­lect more pre­cise data about the reli­gion of the indi­vid­ual alleg­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion.  EEOC released released a fact sheet, in Eng­lish and in Span­ish, pri­mar­ily designed for young work­ers to edu­cate them about their rights under the law.

The Obama Admin­is­tra­tion has made address­ing hate crimes and reli­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion a pri­or­ity.  These new resources and pro­gram­matic ini­tia­tives will help pave the way for fur­ther progress.

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April 4, 2014 Off

Coalition Promotes Expanded Religious Accommodation In The Military

On Jan­u­ary 22, 2014 the Depart­ment of Defense (DoD) pub­lished an updated and revised Instruc­tion 1300.17–Accommodation of Reli­gious Prac­tices Within the Mil­i­tary Ser­vicesThe new guid­ance, which describes pol­icy, pro­ce­dures, and respon­si­bil­i­ties for the accom­mo­da­tion of reli­gious prac­tices in the Armed Forces, was designed “to ensure the pro­tec­tion of rights of con­science of mem­bers of the Armed Forces.”  The updated guid­ance sought to strike the proper bal­ance between mil­i­tary readi­ness and reli­gious free­dom for ser­vice mem­bers.   But it fell short in not pro­vid­ing a suf­fi­cient accom­mo­da­tion for some fun­da­men­tal aspects of minor­ity reli­gious practice.  120407-M-KX613-023.jpg

For exam­ple, the guid­ance lays out a for­mal process so that Jew­ish and Sikh sol­diers may request an accom­mo­da­tion for their required head cov­er­ings (a kip­pah or a tur­ban) and incor­po­rates groom­ing stan­dards that pro­vide a path for approval for beards.   How­ever, each sol­dier must still request an indi­vid­ual, case-by-case accom­mo­da­tion under the guid­ance – a daunt­ing and stress­ful prospect for some, with an uncer­tain out­come.   In the name of “…main­tain­ing uni­form mil­i­tary groom­ing and appear­ance stan­dards,” the effect is to exclude some indi­vid­u­als who would oth­er­wise wel­come the oppor­tu­nity to serve their coun­try in the military.  

In Jan­u­ary, the House Armed Ser­vices Sub­com­mit­tee on Mil­i­tary Per­son­nel held hear­ings on reli­gious accom­mo­da­tions in the mil­i­tary. ADL, the Sikh Coali­tion, and the ACLU, (among oth­ers) raised this issue in their state­ments.  And Holly Holl­man, Gen­eral Coun­sel for the Bap­tist Joint Com­mit­tee on Reli­gious Lib­erty, artic­u­lately described  the del­i­cate bal­anc­ing act fac­ing the mil­i­tary in address­ing reli­gious lib­erty concerns. 

Impor­tantly, more than 100 Mem­bers of Con­gress have weighed in on reli­gious accom­mo­da­tion in the mil­i­tary in a let­ter to the Pen­ta­gon, coor­di­nated by Rep. Joseph Crow­ley (D-NY).   

And this week ADL, the Sikh Coali­tion, and the ACLU coor­di­nated a let­ter to the Pen­ta­gon from an unusu­ally broad coali­tion of twenty-one national groups with real reli­gious lib­erty cre­den­tials and sub­ject mat­ter exper­tise.  The inter­faith coali­tion let­ter stated that the cur­rent guid­ance “need­lessly infringe on the rights of these reli­giously obser­vant ser­vice mem­bers and prospec­tive ser­vice mem­bers” and urged the Pen­ta­gon to fine-tune the Instruc­tion to bet­ter accom­mo­date reli­gious practices. 

The same com­mand struc­ture that pro­vides unique pres­sure to con­form within the mil­i­tary – and poten­tial for inap­pro­pri­ate pros­e­ly­tiz­ing and reli­gious coer­cion – also makes the direct involve­ment of the Pentagon’s lead­er­ship in pro­mot­ing effec­tive, uni­form guid­ance and solu­tions to this prob­lem crit­i­cally important. 

The sig­na­to­ries to the coali­tion let­ter are: 

Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union, Amer­i­can Jew­ish Com­mit­tee (AJC). Amer­i­cans United for Sep­a­ra­tion of Church and State, Anti-Defamation League, Bap­tist Joint Com­mit­tee for Reli­gious Lib­erty, Becket Fund for Reli­gious Lib­erty, Chap­lain Alliance for Reli­gious Lib­erty, Chris­t­ian Legal Soci­ety, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The Epis­co­pal Church, Forum on the Mil­i­tary Chap­laincy, Gen­eral Con­fer­ence of Seventh-day Adven­tists, Inter­faith Alliance, Mus­lim Advo­cates, National Coun­cil of Jew­ish Women, Sikh Amer­i­can Legal Defense and Edu­ca­tion Fund (SALDEF), Sikh Coali­tion, South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Together (SAALT), United Methodist Church, Gen­eral Board of Church and Soci­ety, Union of Ortho­dox Jew­ish Con­gre­ga­tions of Amer­ica, Union for Reform Judaism

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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.

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