By Bob Allen, Baptist News Global and BJC Staff Reports
The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty was among 42 religious, education, civil rights, labor and women’s organizations opposing an amendment to a defense policy bill that would exempt religious organizations receiving any federal grant or contract from employment anti-discrimination statutes and regulations.
The House Armed Services Committee voted 32-29 during a markup April 29 for an amendment to the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act offered after midnight by Rep. Steve Russell, R-Okla., who is a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University and member of First Southern Baptist Church in Del City, Oklahoma. The amendment entitles “any religious corporation, religious association, religious educational institution, or religious society” seeking federal contracts to the same exemptions allowed by federal civil rights law and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
An April 27 letter from the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination, signed by the BJC, said the Russell Amendment “would authorize taxpayer-funded discrimination in each and every federal contract and grant.”
“The government should never fund discrimination and no taxpayer should be disqualified from a job under a federal contract or grant because he or she is the ‘wrong’ religion,” the coalition said.
Religious organizations already have exemptions from many civil rights laws, and those exemptions are not jeopardized if they do not take federal money.
The groups said they appreciate the important role that religiously affiliated institutions play in addressing the nation’s most pressing social needs, and many are involved in that work, but “the separation of church and state is the linchpin of religious freedom.”
“In our view, effective government collaboration with faith-based groups does not require the sanctioning of federally funded religious discrimination,” the coalition said.