capitol dome section with flagWritten by Don Byrd

In a 2 a.m. vote, the House Armed Services Committee passed an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill that would exempt religious organizations contracting with the government from anti-discrimination regulations, including laws protecting against religious discrimination.

The Washington Post reports that 42 religious and civil liberty groups in the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination, including the Baptist Joint Committee, signed a letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the committee urging them to oppose the measure.

Here is an excerpt from that letter:

This 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.

We appreciate the important role religiously affiliated institutions historically have played in addressing many of our nation’s most pressing social needs, as a complement to government-funded programs. Indeed, many of us are directly involved in this work. We also recognize that 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.

Receiving federal funds means playing by federal rules. While religious organizations are free to compete for federal contracts to provide services, taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize discrimination based upon religion. Religious organizations already enjoy appropriate exemptions from many civil rights laws, and can maintain those exemptions by staying out of the federal trough. Using taxpayer funds to discriminate based upon religion is no advancement of religious liberty.

The Post reports that the Defense Bill will likely head to the full House “in the next few weeks.”