Americans United and the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination oppose hiring discrimination in VAWA

Last Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed a version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Reauthorization by a vote of 222-205. Unfortunately the House version (among other problems), contains a provision allowing government funds to underwrite religious hiring discrimination.

In short, the Senate version of the bill bars any organization that accepts VAWA money to perform services from discriminating against its employees in that program on the basis of religion. This language was approved by the House Judiciary Committee and set for the House floor. Opponents of such protections must have realized the contents of the provision at the last minute because, on the floor, the bill sponsor, Sandy Adams (R-FL), offered what is called the Manager’s amendment, which stripped this prohibition so as to allow faith-based organizations to take federal funds and discriminate in hiring with those funds.

Along with 45 other members of the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination (CARD), AU sent a letter to all members of the House of Representatives and their staff voicing our objection to this discriminatory measure. The letter explains that the Adams Amendment to the bill permits religious organizations “to take VAWA funds and use those funds to discriminate against a qualified individual based on nothing more than his or her religious beliefs.” During debate, Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) submitted our letter for the Congressional Record and stated that she joined us in opposition to the measure.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) also took time to explain why the provision is detrimental. “Since the 1960s,” he said, “we have had, as a Federal policy, a prohibition against discrimination based on religion when using Federal funds. The 1964 Civil Rights Act had an exemption for churches and other religious organization using their own funds to be able to consider religion in hiring. However,” he continued, “the manager’s amendment specifically allows those groups to discriminate based on religion with federal funds. We should not pass a bill that allows a person applying for a job paid for with Federal funds to be discriminated against based on religion.”

Americans United also sent an individual letter to all members of the House expressing our opposition. The bill now moves to conference to be reconciled with the Senate version of VAWA, and AU and CARD will continue our efforts to remove the provision allowing government-funded religious discrimination in the final version of the bill.

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