religious freedom » ADL Blogs
Posts Tagged ‘religious freedom’
May 23, 2016

Defense Authorization Act Moves Forward With Discriminatory Provision

Congress standing

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act for 2017 (“NDAA”), inclusive of a broad, discriminatory provision sponsored by Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK). This provision, offered in the name of “religious freedom,” would allow religiously affiliated federal contractors and grantees to discriminate against women, any religious group, and LGBT people with taxpayer dollars.

During House’s debate on the NDAA, Rep. Sean Maloney (D-NY) offered a narrowing amendment which would have protected the Obama Administration’s ban on LGBT discrimination in federal contracting. That amendment failed on chaotic 212-213 vote during which Republican leaders took the extraordinary step of allowing voting to continue after time had expired and pressured a handful of their Members to change their votes.

The Anti-Defamation League was one of 84 civil rights and religious organizations that submitted a coalition letter to Congress in opposition to the Russell Amendment.

Religiously affiliated groups historically have played an important role in addressing many of our nation’s most pressing social needs, as a complement to government-funded programs.   However, faith-based groups should not use taxpayer dollars to discriminate on the basis of religion.  And no one should be disqualified from a job under a federal contract or grant because of his or her sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or religion.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has approved its version of the NDAA without the Russell Amendment.  Moving forward, ADL and our coalition partners will continue to oppose the Russell Amendment and advocate for its exclusion from the final version of the NDAA.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

March 17, 2016

Tennessee Legislation Supports Church-State Separation in Public Schools

Tennessee’s state legislature is not known for moving forward legislation strengthening the wall separating church and state.  But earlier this week that is precisely what it did by passing a bill that mandates constitutional safeguards in teaching about religion in public schools.

In recent years, the state legislature has enacted multiple bills that promote majority religious views and undermine the separation principle: a bill designating the Holy Bible as the official state book; backdoor school prayer legislation; a measure requiring post-secondary schools to support student clubs that exclude members based on religion; and a so-called “Academic Freedom Act,” which opens the door to teaching intelligent design – a form of creationism – in the public schools.

Flag_of_the_General_Assembly_of_Tennessee.svg

Based on this history, the passage of House Bill 1905, “An act relative to … the inclusion of religion in instruction and curriculum,” at first glance seems inconsistent and surprising.  The impetus for the bill, however, mitigates that inconsistency.  It was filed in response to claims that a middle school social studies curriculum crossed the constitutional line between teaching about and indoctrinating Islam.  No similar claims were made about the course’s coverage of other faiths including, Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Confucianism, Daoism, and African religions.

Despite the questionable motivation behind the bill, on paper it is beneficial.  It codifies longstanding constitutional standards  by stating that “[t]he inclusion of religion in textbooks, instructional materials, curriculum, or academic standards shall be for educational purposes only and shall not be used to promote or establish any religion or religious belief.”  Most significantly, it requires “[t]eacher training institutions” to provide candidates with instruction and strategies on how to teach about religion in a constitutionally permissible manner.

Our nation’s public schools are for all children regardless of their faith.  In theory, HB 1905’s safeguards should make Tennessee public schools more welcoming and inclusive.  However, in light of the state legislature’s history and the reasons behind this bill, ADL has concerns that its protections will only be applied in teaching about minority faiths.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

March 4, 2016

A Win For Religious Minorities In the Military

Captain Simratpal is an honors West Point graduate, Army Ranger, combat veteran, Bronze Star recipient and observant Sikh, who wants to abide by the articles his faith – wearing a turban, unshorn hair and a beard – while serving his country.  Instead of granting his recent request for a permanent religious accommodation, the Army singled him out for specialized gas mask and helmet testing.

Yesterday, a federal district court in a well-reasoned decision not only rejected these tests, but recognized the importance of fostering religious diversity in our military.

sikh warrior When the Captain entered West Point a decade ago, Army rules did not permit him to follow the articles of his faith.  So he made the difficult choice of choosing service to his country over his faith.

In recent years, however, the Army has revised it religious accommodation rules and Sikh solders have been permitted to abide by their religiously-mandated grooming standards. After Captain Simratpal met some of these solders at a Pentagon-sponsored Sikh celebration last year, he decided that his military service should not prevent him from following his faith.

Last December, he was granted a temporary accommodation to wear a turban, unshorn hair and a beard pending a decision on his request for a permanent accommodation.  The Captain was under the belief that the Army would grant the permanent accommodation, but instead he received orders on February 24th to report for rigorous, specialized testing for the fitting of his gas mask and helmet.  Soldiers seeking to wear a beard for medical reasons, “Hard to fit” soldiers with helmet and mask fitting issues, and even other Sikh soldiers are not required to undergo such testing.

This week, the Captain filed a federal lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia claiming that the specialized test violated his rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and asking to the Court to temporarily stop them while he awaits a final answer on his request for a permanent religious accommodation.

The court ruled in his favor stating: Singling out the plaintiff for specialized testing due to only his Sikh articles of faith is, in this context, unfair and discriminatory.  It is this singling out for special scrutiny – indeed, with the initial precaution of requiring an escort and observers for the plaintiff as he was subjected to the tests – that has a clear tendency to pressure the plaintiff, or other soldiers who may wish to seek a religious accommodation, to conform behavior and forego religious precepts. Rattan sings

ADL over the last decade has expressed concerns and advocated on issues of religious accommodation and coercion in the military.  We welcome the court’s ruling and statement that “the public has a significant interest in having a diverse military, reflective of the composition of our country and accepting of religious minorities.”  The Army should withdraw its order for specialized testing of Captain Simratpal and expeditiously grant his request for a permanent religious accommodation.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,