April 2004 Church & State | AU Bulletin

Current and former employees of the Salvation Army in New York are suing the organization, charging that the group took tax funds and imposed religious qualifications on its workers.

The 18 plaintiffs say they were forced to give the Salvation Army information about their personal religious beliefs and provide information about other employees' sexual orientations and church affiliations. Their case is being sponsored by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU).

The Salvation Army, which is a religious denomination, receives millions in tax dollars every year to provide social services like childcare and aid to the homeless. Recently, some Army officials have expressed a desire to increase the sectarian character of their programs.

One Salvation Army employee, Mary Jane Dessables, told the Associated Press that she resented being told to divulge information about her religious beliefs. Many employees said they feared that the information was being collected so that gay workers and non-Christians could be fired.

"I feel it is my duty as a taxpayer to insist that the Salvation Army not be allowed to collect this information that may be used to discriminate against their employees," Dessables said.

"This case is not about the right of the Salvation Army to practice or promote its religion," said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU executive director. "They have every right to do so, but not with government money. The Salvation Army cannot use taxpayer money to practice religious discrimination against its social services employees." (Lown v. Salvation Army. Inc.)