Agudath Israel of America was among the signatories to a letter received by every member of the U.S. Congress this past week concerning a proposed change in the law governing the rules for faith-based organizations’ participation in federal programs.Although the provision at issue concerns only one such program, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the groups signed to the letter fear that it could be read to affect other social services programs as well.
Religious groups receiving federal funds to administer social services are already required to provide their services to anyone who needs them, regardless of the client’s religious affiliation or belief. The proposed provision aims to prohibit such religious groups from hiring only staff who share each group’s religious beliefs.
The proposed change, the signatories contend, would not only prevent their groups from helping the federal government reach many of those in need of social services but also runs afoul of the First Amendment’s protection of citizen’s religious rights.
Says Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s Washington office director and counsel: “This is a serious threat to religious liberty and to the viability of the Obama Administration’s Faith-Based Partnership program.
“The religious community’s success in addressing many of society’s problems is rooted in each group’s religious mission and in adherence to its beliefs and doctrines. Undermining a religious organization’s ability to choose to hire those who share its faith undermines its mission and ultimately its effectiveness.
“Government has no place here.”