Secular group lobbies Obama to address religious hiring practice - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Secular group lobbies Obama to address religious hiring practices

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A secular organization is calling on President Barack Obama to make good on a campaign promise to restore anti-discrimination practices and end faith-based initiative policies that allow the federal government to subsidize "employment discrimination on the basis of religion."

The Secular Coalition for America, a nonprofit that serves as the national lobby for atheists, humanists and other nontheistic Americans, takes issue with faith-based initiatives put in place by President George W. Bush in 2001 and calls for the Obama administration to establish a transparent review process in how these faith-based offices handle religious discrimination claims in the hiring of government-funded positions by religious organizations.

According to a news release issued by SCA, 14 federal agencies and departments, including the U.S Department of Agriculture, Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, take part in faith-based initiative programs. This allows religious organizations to accept taxpayer money to provide government-contracted social services and use those funds to hire only those who practice the same faith, even if the job has no religious function. SCA sent letters to each of the 14 agencies calling for a transparent review process of how discrimination in hiring claims are handled.

"In almost three years, the Obama administration has done little to address the consequences of allowing religious organizations to discriminate in hiring with taxpayer dollars," said Amanda Knief, government relations manager for the Secular Coalition for America. "We are asking for these agencies and offices to show us how they are handling these cases."

In a July 2008 stump speech in Zanesville, Ohio, then-candidate Obama said he would expand social services offered through churches and other religious organizations, but said those groups should not receive federal dollars to carry out their mission.

"If you get a federal grant, you can't use that grant money to proselytize the people you help and you can't discriminate against them — or against the people you hire — on the basis of their religion." Obama said in his speech. "Federal dollars that go directly to churches, temples and mosques can only be used on secular programs."

But now, three years into his presidential term, the "issue has not been adequately addressed," according to a SCA news release. Instead, the Obama administration said it would make determinations on a case-by-case basis but declined to offer specifics about how individual cases would be handled.

In 2007, the last year comprehensive numbers was available according the news release, $2.2 billion in federal grants was awarded to faith-based organizations by 11 federal agencies, making up about 11 percent of the $20.4 billion in federal grants awarded that year. The group maintains that by allowing organizations government to operate using tax dollars while not abiding by the same guidelines as secular organizations, "the government is subsidizing religious discrimination."

"Religious and secular nonprofit groups should be treated the same under the law," Knief said. "Taxpayer dollars should not be used to endorse any kind of discrimination."