Wednesday, December 03, 2008


By William Fisher

You may have heard that the Bush Administration is in a frenzied race to lock in its favorite policies before Barack Obama takes office.

So far, Bushies have managed to use Executive Orders to savage regulations that trash environmental protections, give early Christmas gifts to business interests, and yet again submerge science under ideology.

And it may not be so easy for the Obama Administration to undo this potpourri of hundreds of regulations.

But not all the Bushies’ assaults on the Constitution began with the election of a new president.

One shining example: In 2007, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel issued a memorandum concerning one of the most troubling aspects of W’s faith-based initiative.

This memorandum says it’s OK for organizations that are recipients of grants from the faith-based initiative to openly discriminate against hiring people on religious grounds. It reached that dubious conclusion despite existing antidiscrimination laws and Congress’ resounding refusal to change those laws.

The consequence is that charities affiliated with Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, or whatever faiths, can now legally refuse to hire job applicants – or accept volunteers -- simply because they are not of the same faith.

Maybe I’m missing something, but what that says to me is that my tax dollars might just be flowing to some outfit I couldn’t work for or benefit from.

Then there’s that pesky issue of Constitutionality. Doesn’t our Constitution say something about Congress making no law respecting an establishment of

Now if you’re just hearing about this for the first time, it’s not surprising. That’s because the OLC regulation, while issued in 2007, was only recently posted on the Office of Legal Counsel’s website.

One has to wonder why, if the Bushies are so proud of their faith-based programs, they spirit this good news onto their website, as it were, in the dead of night in a way that suggests they’re trying to keep it well under the radar.

The OLC ruling grows out of a $1.5 million grant to a Christian relief and development organization called World Vision, Inc., founded in 1950. The grant came from the Office of Justice Programs pursuant to the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974.

Now, the law says that, as a condition of receiving grants pursuant to the JJDPA, recipients must refrain from discriminating on the basis of religion in “employment in connection with any programs or activity” funded by the grant.

But World Vision wasn’t thrilled with that law, so it asked the Department of Justice to waive it.

In World Vision’s application for a waiver, the group said it has made it a policy to hire only “Christian staff to assist with the mission of the organization.” It said it has done so in order to “maintain [its] identity and strength, which [are] at the core of [its] success,” and because it “can only remain true to [its] vision if [it] ha[s] the freedom to select like-minded staff, which includes staffing on a religious basis.” It stated that the work of the Vision Youth program is “very staff intensive.” And its staff all “share a faith, passion and commitment to [World Vision’s] mission.”

The OLC responded: “You (World Vision) have asked whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) -- which prohibits the Government from “substantially burden[ing]” religious exercise unless that burden “is the least restrictive means of furthering [a] compelling governmental interest -- …requires OJP to exempt World Vision from the religious nondiscrimination provision. We conclude that RFRA is reasonably construed to require that such an accommodation be made for World Vision, and that OJP would be within its legal discretion, under the JJDPA and under RFRA, to exempt World Vision from the religious nondiscrimination requirement.”

What should be our take-away from all this? Well, it should come as no surprise that for the last eight years the Bush Administration has been pulling out all the stops to lower our traditional barriers between church and state. And succeeding.

But arguably the credibility of the OLC decision should be informed by that office’s recent history and twisted record. After all, why should we believe anything from the office that ruled it was OK for American investigators to use harsh interrogation techniques – torture, that is?

A ruling whose tortured logic will exact a price our country will be paying for decades.

But have faith; there’s a light at the end of this dark tunnel. Two lights, to be exact. The first is that, in less than two months, the Bushies will be gone – and, with them, one of the most divisive administrations in our country’s history. The second is that President-elect Obama has made it clear that, while he too will have a faith-based initiative, under no circumstances will it allow its beneficiaries to decide whom to hire on the basis of religion.

Faith-based organizations do a huge amount of good in our society. But they shouldn’t be allowed to use our tax dollars to adopt an ideology contrary to the most basic tenets of their own faith in order to execute their programs.