New York, NY, August 3, 2011 … Following an appearance at a town hall meeting where President Obama described faith-based partnerships as having to strike a "balance" between nondiscrimination in hiring and firing decisions based on religion, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called on the President to clarify his position and to fulfill his promise to ensure that federal money is not used to proselytize or discriminate.
"President Obama, we applaud your dedication and commitment to addressing the problems of poverty, homelessness, hunger, addiction and other social ills," said Robert G. Sugarman, ADL National Chair and Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "But we firmly believe that you can do so without resorting to government-funded religious discrimination. We urge you to clarify your remarks and position and end this misguided policy."
In a letter to the President, the ADL leaders said his comments, as well as recent remarks by Joshua DuBois, Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, had raised anew questions about the failure to install adequate anti-discrimination safeguards in the government grant program.
At a July 22 town hall meeting in College Park, Maryland, the President was asked about the potential for taxpayer-funded religious discrimination in the government's faith-based and neighborhood partnerships program, which awards government grants to faith-based charitable and community organizations such as food pantries, homeless shelters and drug addiction treatment centers.
President Obama responded that, "…if you have set up a non-profit that is disassociated with your core religious functions and is out there in the public doing all kinds of work, then you have to abide generally with the nondiscrimination hiring practices. If, on the other hand, it is closer to your core functions as a synagogue or a mosque or a church, then there may be more leeway for you to hire somebody who is a believer of that particular religious faith."
"It is now well established that religious organizations may hire on the basis of religion with respect to their own privately funded positions," the ADL leaders wrote in the letter to President Obama. "But the notion that a religious institution can hire and fire government-funded daycare providers or food pantry workers (to use your examples) on the basis of religion, offends basic principles of both equal protection and church-state separation."
The League noted that in an important policy speech on July 1, 2008, the President stated that he would change the way the Bush Administration's faith-based program was carried out, and that "if you get a federal grant, you can't use that money to proselytize to the people you help and you can't discriminate against them – or against the people you hire – on the basis of their religion."
ADL also suggested that Mr. DuBois, as head of the program, had fallen short in his effort to allay concerns about his own recent remarks about the potential for church-state violations.
On July 27, Mr. DuBois, in Denver for an outreach event, was quoted as stating, "If your focus is first and foremost serving people in need, then there's not a tremendous amount of time left to debate the finer points of the church-state relationship."
The League wrote to Mr. DuBois asserting that his statement, if reported accurately, "reflected a shockingly dismissive attitude toward the First Amendment to the United States Constitution." Mr. DuBois subsequently notified ADL in an e-mail that his remarks were "not reported accurately" and that he planned on clarifying the issue in a blog.
But the League said his August 1 blog post "fell short of correcting the record."