In a victory for church-state separation, the U.S. Congress has approved a version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that bars the use of government funds to underwrite religious discrimination in hiring or services.
VAWA, signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 7, makes it easier to prosecute violence against women and pays for social services such as shelters for battered women and domestic abuse hotlines. Originally passed in 1994, the reauthorized law bars “faith-based” bias in the act’s implementation.
The relevant portion of the bill reads, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity funded in whole or in part with funds made available under the Violence Against Women Act of 1994.”
That language is a victory for Americans United, which has been working to keep “faith-based” job bias and proselytizing out of social service legislation.
In the last Congress, the House had opposed a Senate version of the bill in part because it included an anti-discrimination provision. Senate Democrats rejected an alternative House Republican proposal because it lacked protections for gay and lesbian victims of abuse and for other reasons.
The Coalition Against Religious Discrimination (CARD), which Americans United chairs, sent a letter to all House members in February, opposing religiously based discrimination in hiring in publicly funded programs.
“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,” the letter said. “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.”